Two things are certain during the Australian summer of tennis.
Firstly, matches at the Sydney International this week and at Melbourne Park next week will be played in stifling heat.
Secondly, TV viewers will be sick to death of the promos for what host broadcaster Channel Seven has in store ‘after the tennis’.
One thing fans aren’t sick of, however, is Fast4 Tennis. In its third year now, the Tennis Australia initiative has proven a huge hit and Monday night’s entertaining slugfest between Nick Kyrgios and Rafael Nadal rubbished any notion that the format is just a bit of ‘hit and giggle’.
While the ‘fun and fast’ format lends itself to a more casual and relaxed environment than the pressure cooker of the ATP circuit, the duo traded blows for 100 minutes at the new ICC Sydney Theatre, with the packed house treated to a spectacularly high quality and competitive showdown – and an Australian win.
No signs of taking it easy by Kyrgios, who looked fit and fresh after a knee injury him during his Hopman Cup loss to Jack Sock last week. His movement was fluid, his groundstrokes were fearsome and his serve, well it was massive.
While there were no ranking points on offer, a triumphant and tranquil Kyrgios said he would “draw a lot of confidence” from the win against 14-time Grand Slam winner Nadal, who we learned is just as competitive on the golf course as he is in an exhibition match or a French Open final.
Kyrgios’ comments and demeanour will fill the Australian tennis faithful with hope as the 14th-ranked tennis player threatens to crack it for a spot in the top ten. His breakthrough 2016 season produced three singles titles, a career-high ranking of 13 but ultimately culminated with an enforced layoff after a ‘lack of best efforts’ in the second round of the Shanghai Rolex Masters.
Nadal believes Kyrgios has the game to be a Grand Slam champion while John McEnroe singled him out as the likely future champion from his generation.
It would seem, as it has for some time, that the ball is firmly in the Canberra-born star’s court when it comes to how good he can be.
We all know what Kyrgios can achieve when he’s on. He’s beaten Nadal and Milos Raonic at Wimbledon, he’s rolled past the great Roger Federer on clay, knocked off Stan Wawrinka on more than one occasion and even beaten the best in the business right now, Andy Murray – at the 2016 Hopman Cup.
So which Nick Kyrgios will we see when the Australian Open commences in Melbourne next week?
The brash box office showman with the self-belief and swagger that electrifies audiences and commentators alike with his explosive hitting, aggressive play and outrageous shot-making.
Or the temperamental and aloof young man who has been accused of ‘tanking’ during matches and openly admits his love for basketball and not tennis, the sport that could catapult him to super stardom.
Fortunately, we won’t have to wait long to find out but regardless of which Kyrgios shows up it would seem unlikely that a men’s winner will come from anyone outside of Murray, six-times winner Novak Djokovic or 2014 champion Wawrinka.
Kyrgios has time on his side and is the youngest player inside the world’s top 20, so there is no need for panic – yet.
Much like Mark Phillippoussis, Kyrgios has the physical attributes, power and ability to dominate opponents at will. But like ‘the Scud’, Kyrgios is in danger of being labelled a ‘Dud’ and the latest addition on the unwanted list of players that ‘should have won a Grand Slam’.
While revered multiple Grand Slam winners Lleyton Hewitt and Patrick Rafter squeezed every last ounce out of their talent to ascend to the summit of the men’s game, many point the finger at Phillippoussis for wasting his talent.
Although that seems a bit stiff on a guy that won the deciding rubber in the 1999 and 2003 Davis Cup finals for Australia, was a Grand Slam runner-up twice and peaked at No. 8 in the world.
That reality is what could confront Kyrgios when his career is said and done for when the legendary Rod Laver declares that at 21 you have the ability to be the world’s best player, being a top 20 or even top ten player just isn’t good enough. You have to be the best.