Sunday Star-Times

Cup culture helps Kyrgios temper behaviour


Has the Wild Thing turned into the Mild Thing?

Nick Kyrgios is winning and smiling a little and all of a sudden, Australia seems more prepared to forgive him his teenage sins.

Who was this Kyrgios on Friday night, kidding around with the actor Will Smith during his postmatch interview, sharing a joke with one of his favourite players, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, at the net after the Australian beat Tsonga in four sets to reach the fourth round, and enduring a long and tough match without a single major blow-up?

The question is whether it is a new, mature Kyrgios at 22, and it is worth rememberin­g that at his pretournam­ent press conference, he said that he knew it was time to mature, to find a more ‘‘even keel’’.

‘‘There’s no doubt that Nick’s improving in that space,’’ said Todd Woodbridge, Davis Cup legend and media analyst.

‘‘I’ve been a big advocate for what the Davis Cup last year has done for him. It’s [being part of a team] but not only that, I think if you learn to cope with the stress and the pressure of performing for your group, meaning the playing group, there’s actually a lot of expectatio­n and responsibi­lity and with learning to handle that responsibi­lity, it becomes easier when you walk out as an individual to do that because you’re better equipped. Whereas two years ago, 18 months ago, he wasn’t able to handle that, because he’s been given a new tool. We’re starting to see that.’’

Kyrgios himself acknowledg­es that Lleyton Hewitt’s calling him up for the Davis Cup, culminatin­g in a September semifinal loss to Belgium in Brussels, has been ‘‘huge’’ for him.

‘‘I think honestly, it’s the culture,’’ he said on Friday night.

Woodbridge said he had seen it all before.

‘‘Historical­ly in Australia, many of our very best players have had that experience and gone on to better and great things.’’

It was only a year ago that Kyrgios was at his worst here in Melbourne, losing to Andreas Seppi and warring with the chair umpire, complete with code violations and a torrent of public criticism afterward. As Woodbridge observed, the Australian has had moments already in this tournament that could have led to an explosion – against Viktor Troicki and again during the tight battle with Tsonga. But the Vesuvius moments never came.

‘‘He’s showing us that he’s learning,’’ Woodbridge said.

‘‘We all have to understand that he doesn’t enjoy it [holding his temper]. But I always feel our expectatio­ns on a teenager or someone in their early 20s to actually act and behave like someone who’s in their mid-40s is probably a little unreasonab­le.

‘‘You’d like it to be perfect but none of it’s perfect. What we’re seeing is a guy who’s listening and a guy who’s learning. He’s going to have his moments, don’t be fooled because it’s also his point of difference.

‘‘He can be so dynamic in a match and change a match so quickly, and if you took those things out, you don’t have Kyrgios, the guy who’s capable of the highlights that we see. What we’ve seen this year is an indication of someone who has that ability to take a step back, slow down, settle down and come through.’’

For his part, Kyrgios says the public perception does not bother him, although the crowd response on Friday indicated that people are beginning to warm to him.

The more serious meeting to come is today with Grigor Dimitrov, of Bulgaria, the world No 3 and winner of the season-ending ATP finals in London.

For Kyrgios, the business resumes.

He’s showing us that he’s learning. Todd Woodbridge

 ??  ?? Nick Kyrgios has been behaving himself at the Australian Open.
Nick Kyrgios has been behaving himself at the Australian Open.

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