With Ash Barty enjoying a comfortable retirement, Nick Kyrgios will be far and away the top drawcard for home fans at the Australian Open, feeling both privilege and pressure to meet expectations after his best season in 2022.
After an underwhelming career at the Grand Slams, the fiery Canberra native made the final at Wimbledon last year and the U.S. Open quarter-finals to win over detractors who had labelled him a wasted talent.
Barty ended Australia’s long wait for a home champion at Melbourne Park last year by winning the women’s title but locals will hope Kyrgios can finally claim a maiden Grand Slam crown and end the 47-year drought for a home men’s winner.
Having often left some fans cold with his on-court histrionics, Kyrgios said it was now a privilege to feel Australia wanted him to win and be one of the favourites.
“I walked in here at the Australian Open maybe eight, nine years ago as a wild card. Now to see how my career has unfolded, to get to a point where everyone kind of expects me to win and go far, it’s a good feeling,” the 27-year-old told reporters at Melbourne Park on Saturday.
“But there’s a lot of stress, as well. I see it everywhere, on social media, everyone talking about it. ‘How are you feeling about Australian Open? You’re one of the favourites.’
“It’s hard to kind of just focus on what I need to do.”
Though having not completed a tour match since October, Kyrgios has still managed to hog the limelight in the leadup to Melbourne Park.
He was a last-minute withdrawal from Australia’s team for the United Cup, sparking a war of words with co-captain Lleyton Hewitt.
He was front and centre on Friday night as he played a practice match with Novak Djokovic, the man who beat him for the Wimbledon title, in front of a packed house at Rod Laver Arena.
Kyrgios and Djokovic once had a frosty relationship after the Australian criticised the Serb for hosting the disastrous Adria Tour in 2020, where top players partied without social distancing and ended up contracting COVID-19.
But the pair have become much closer since Kyrgios defended Djokovic during his deportation ordeal in the run-up to last year’s Australian Open.
“I went against my words and stood up for him in front of my country. That wasn’t easy for me, either,” said Kyrgios.
“I dealt with a lot of criticism. But obviously he appreciated that.
“It’s kind of gone from a rough sort of place to now we’re helping each other out on the biggest stage. We’re just great competitors.”