(January 17, 2014) MELBOURNE – There were probably few outside of the tightly knit Australian tennis community who knew Nick Kyrgios‘ name before Thursday night. But even devastating cramps did not tempt the 18-year-old to succumb to early defeat, still mustering up the energy – from God knows where – to stick it out to five sets with world No. 28 Benoit Paire.
While Kyrgios may not have won the match, he has won the hearts of thousands of viewers from all around the world and is motivated even more to go from strength to strength.
We caught up with Kyrgios to hear about his Australian Open debut, the transition to pro tour, his inspiration on court and his reaction to fellow Aussie Bernard Tomic‘s retirement from his first round match against Rafael Nadal earlier on in the week.
Alana Mitchelson: You must be pretty proud of your performance last night?
Nick Kyrgios: Last night was one of the best experiences of my life. It was my first Grand Slam best-of-five match. It was a bit unfortunate to lose but all credits to him, you know, he outlasted me. He played some really good tennis and I respected him as well. But the crowd was unbelievable. It was an experience that just keeps me motivated to keep improving.
AM: What was going through your mind as you started cramping up?
NK: My body was hurting a little bit towards the end and I knew that I was getting dominated in the last couple of sets. I knew I had to pull out something. But at that time I was just trying to relax and keep my body as efficient as possible so that I wasn’t going to fully cease up. I was good enough to finish the match and I gave it everything I could. That’s all you can do.
AM: Was there a reason why you didn’t call for a trainer to maybe have a massage? It might have given your legs a bit of a rest.
NK: That was running through my mind as well. Obviously there are rules, you can’t call for cramps, and I know there are a lot of ways around that but I thought I could have managed it myself and I thought I did everything I could. I don’t think I would have gotten too much out of that because I couldn’t really move my quad at one stage and I couldn’t really bend it or straighten it. So I just kept moving on with the game and it ended up feeling okay towards the end of the fifth set, but it was a bit too late. He had a lot of momentum and he just carried it through.
AM: After what happened with Tomic’s match earlier in the week, were you worried about how the crowd would react if you had called a time-out?
NK: I wasn’t thinking about Tomic at all at that stage when I was thinking about throwing the towel in. I was always going to finish the match to the very end no matter what happened out there. But obviously what happened to Bernie’s not ideal. I’m feeling for him. I hope he’s recovering as quick as possible because we need him for the Davis Cup tie coming up.
AM: What was your reaction to how the crowd reacted to Tomic retiring?
NK: That’s a tough question. I don’t really know. I’m sure Bernie had a legitimate reason for why he retired. He’s one of the best tennis players we’ve got. I’m sure he would have been feeling something out there, he’s not going to just retire. He loves being on that Rod Laver Arena. He’s played some unbelievable matches there and to have the opportunity to play Rafael Nadal as well, you’re not going to pass it up like that. I’m assuming that something is wrong.
AM: What has been your favourite part of this whole experience of playing at your home slam at men’s standard for the first time?
NK: Especially, it being the Australian Open, just playing at home and having your family and your friends and just everybody supporting you and getting behind you. I mean, last night sounded like a Davis Cup tie playing at home. Everybody just went nuts. They were really motivating me and pushing me to bring out some of my top tennis. It’s almost just motivated me to keep playing at this level continuously because it’s what you dream of when you’re a little kid.
AM: How have you been coping with being more so in the spotlight and receiving more media attention?
NK: I’m honestly not too fussed by all that stuff. It’s obviously tough having the spotlight on you and a lot of expectation, a lot of pressure. I think you’ve just got to embrace all that. You can’t really block it out because that’s when it starts to get to you. You just embrace it and you do everything you can to work through it. It’s tough when they’re firing questions at you when you’ve lost a five setter over about four hours yesterday, but you can’t let emotions cloud your responses.
AM: And your Twitter followers completely skyrocketed last night. What was that like, to just casually glance down at your phone and see you had 14,000 followers overnight?
NK: It was pretty crazy. But my phone’s running pretty slow at the moment. So it’s great that I’m getting all of the support, but my phone doesn’t really work properly right now. But it’s obviously good to have all the support out there and it’s motivating to keep working hard.
AM: You’re the only teenager in the top 200. How do you feel playing people who are older and more experienced than yourself? Are you intimidated by that at all? It didn’t seem to worry you last night.
NK: Nah, it’s not intimidating. You don’t really have too much to lose against those top guys. Receiving a wildcard, as well, you have an opportunity to just go out there and have an absolute crack at it. It’s obviously a good feeling being the only teenager in the top 200. All those facts are just motivating to keep going, to really make those top guys known to you.
AM: Who on the men’s tour do you have the most respect for?
NK: The most respect? Probably Roger Federer. He’s done an enormous amount for the game and he’s a perfect role model for anyone who does play tennis and who doesn’t play tennis. Just the way he conducts himself on and off the courts, it’s unbelievable the charity work he does. He’s the perfect person.
AM: Have you ever had the chance to have a chat to him?
NK: I haven’t had a running conversation with him but I’ve said ‘hi’ to him a couple of times and he’s said ‘hey, how are you?’ and stuff like that but I haven’t really had deep conversations with him.
AM: How were you first introduced to tennis?
NK: My mum took me down to the local tennis courts in Canberra, where I’m originally from, and I wasn’t too keen on it at all (laughs). But she just said to have a go and I really enjoyed it. I had a lot of fun out there and I think that carries on to today. I love having fun out there and really enjoy myself.
AM: Can you tell me a bit about your Greek heritage?
NK: My dad’s my Greek side. He was in Greece and he came to Australia in 1957 with his mum. I did a bit of Greek school when I was young but I was just real naughty. I never really did anything in class. That’s why, to this day, I can understand a little of it but I can’t speak it. Probably should’ve listened a bit more in class. It’s really good having such a strong Greek community in Melbourne come out and support me and Thanasi this week and I can’t thank them enough.
AM: Can you tell me a bit about your success as a Junior? When you’re playing with all of those other Australian kids across different states and you see just how much talent there is out there, how did you keep motivated to feel you might have a shot at this and to pursue tennis as a career?
NK: Yeah, I think we’re producing a lot of good Junior players in Australia at the moment. We’ve got a lot of guys in the Junior Australian Open as well. We all push each other, we all train together and I think moving from the Junior to the senior ranks is one of the toughest transitions. You’ve just got to stay positive. Tennis can beat you down mentally with all the travel and stuff, so you’ve just got to keep pushing, stay positive and push each other. I think it’s good that we all have each other as well.
AM: Like you said, you are going through that transition phase now. For some, it can be a quick process to shoot up in the rankings but for others it can be years and years. So how does that make you feel, knowing it could be next year or it could be 10 years?
NK: Yeah, you can’t really think about it too much like that because that’s sort of frightening. You’ve just got to take it each day at a time. The journey starts today and you’ve only got to worry about what you’re going to do today. You’ve got to get better at something every day I think too. You either take a step forward or you take a step back every day, so you’ve just got to keep bringing the right attitude every day.
AM: Is it nice that you and Thanasi Kokkinakis are making this transition into pro tour together?
NK: Yeah, I think having Thanasi there is really good because he’s a close friend as well and when I’m struggling I’ll talk to him or when he’s struggling he’ll talk to me. But we push each other. We’re sort of competing against each other as well. Whenever one of us makes that push, the other one follows. He’s done a great job. He’s really impressed me the last couple of years, especially last year, and he was playing some unbelievable tennis this week as well. It’s not really surprising that he’s doing that, you know, he’s a great player. It’s really good that we’re working together.
AM: Do you think there’s a little bit of a rivalry forming there between the two of you? I’m thinking back to the Australian Open Junior final last year and the 18s final before that again.
NK: Yeah, I’m sure there’s a bit of that there as well. That’s completely normal I think. Tennis is an individual sport. You’re going to always want yourself to perform the best. But I think it’s important that we stick together.
AM: Who gives you the most inspiration when you’re on the court. Obviously you have a lot of passion within you for the sport but there must be certain people in your life who really inspire you.
NK: Yeah, I think that person is Christos and he’s my brother. He amazes me how positive he is and how much motivation he has. He’s always in the gym pushing himself and he’s always motivating me – always keeping it positive, getting me up for training when I’m struggling for matches. He’s always been there. He’s always been on the side of the court. He was there last night from the start to the end. He’s really that person you described I think.
AM: What’s the funniest thing to have ever happened to you on a tennis court?
NK: Oh, probably the funniest thing that happened this week was last night when I saved the set point, second set, and they reckon it was the shot of the tournament so far. The crowd was loving it and I just got the crowd involved. That was probably my best moment because it looked pretty funny on the highlight.
AM: Thanks for your time and good luck with everything.
NK: Yeah, no probs. Thank you.
Alana Mitchelson is a Melbourne-based freelance journalist covering the Australian Open for Tennis Panorama News. Follow her tournament updates on Twitter @TennisNewsTPN and read her personal website.