Nick Kyrgios’ skill takes centre-stage

The 21-year-old is in the news for all the right reasons at the ATP Indian Wells Masters.

Nick Kyrgios has “truly arrived on the scene”, says Roger Federer.   -  AP

Nick Kyrgios's back-to-back victories over Novak Djokovic at last have the explosive Australian tennis talent in the spotlight for all the right reasons. The 21-year-old, whose petulant antics have often overshadowed his immense skill, overpowered three-time defending champion Djokovic to book a Friday quarterfinal showdown with Roger Federer at the ATP Indian Wells Masters.

The 6-4, 7-6 (7-4) triumph over Djokovic on the Stadium Court the Serb had owned for three straight years came on the heels of Kyrgios’ quarterfinal triumph over Djokovic in Acapulco. Kyrgios is the first player in eight years to beat Djokovic in back-to-back hard court tournaments.

"I'm very impressed him taking out Novak, back-to-back weeks, on Novak's best surface," Federer said. "It goes a long way for all the players - not that he needed to prove his point - but I think now he has really arrived on the scene. He's beaten all the guys: Novak, myself, Rafa (Nadal). It's very impressive."

In Acapulco, Kyrgios fired 25 aces to bring a premature end to Djokovic's first tournament since a shock second-round exit at the U.S. Open. His aggressive serve was again at the forefront on Wednesday, but Djokovic said the 16th-ranked Aussie had plenty to back it up.

"He was playing better from baseline here than he did in Acapulco," Djokovic said. "So even when I had my chances, when I was in the rallies, he was just not giving me too many points away, not making too many unforced errors. Undoubtedly he is capable of a lot of big things," Djokovic continued. "That was projected for him already a couple of years back. He's not very consistent with his results, but he's coming closer to the top 10. There is no doubt that he has a big game, and that game that he has can and should be for a top-10, top-five player. So it just depends on him and his commitment to the sport."

That commitment has been called into question on more than one occasion.

He was booed off the court and accused of giving up as he crashed out of the Australian Open in the second round in January, when he was making his return from a ban for "lack of best efforts" during a match in Shanghai this year. At the time, Kyrgios blamed his Melbourne meltdown on "poor management".

‘A dark place’

Kyrgios said this week he was resigned to the fact that his stormy temperament will never sit well with all tennis fans and commentators. "I'm the type of person that's going to have a fan base, and I'm the type of person that have people that don't really like me," he said. "I'm comfortable with that."

That's because he's found a way to be comfortable with himself. "I was in a pretty dark place," he said. "Even I was at 13 (in the world) last year, but I wasn't in a good place mentally at all. I was beating myself down, and I just wasn't in a good place. (Now) I'm just trying to stay happy and just try and enjoy my tennis a little bit."

Answering captain Lleyton Hewitt's call for Davis Cup duty was a big step forward in that department, Kyrgios said. "That was the best thing I could have done, come back and be with the boys, and I found some enjoyment practising again," he said. "Something switched, and now I'm really enjoying it again."

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