As Australia’s Bushfires Rage On, Kyrgios Is Carrying His Country’s Heart On His Sleeve – And Letting His Racquet Do His Talking

Nick Kyrgios

BRISBANE, January 7, 2020 (by Michael Dickens)

Through the first five days of the inaugural ATP Cup, there has been plenty of rewarding moments – some great individual and team matchups – and plenty of exciting highlights as a new tennis season unfolds across the Australian continent. Yet, as the deadly and toxic bushfires rage on in southeast Australia, it has been confusing times, too.

As the race for the Final Eight concludes on Wednesday with meaningful ties taking place in Sydney, Brisbane and Perth, before plunging into the knockout stage that begins in Sydney on Thursday, one can’t help but keep an eye on what’s happening outside of the tennis arenas. After all, the devastating and heartbreaking wildfires Down Under show no sign of slowing, and day by day, dark clouds are hanging over Australia’s major cities and its tennis venues.

What should tennis do? What should fans do? Do we immerse ourselves further in tennis and ignore the bushfires that are burning up the beautiful countryside of Australia? Does Tennis Australia, the governing body of the sport Down Under, pull the plug on the Australian Open that starts in less than two weeks in Melbourne out of concern for the health and safety of both the players and fans?

Or, is the value of tennis so important – not only in Australia but elsewhere in the world in these trouble times – that allowing the show to go on is in everyone’s best interests?

If this week at the ATP Cup has been any indication, through their performances on court and in social media the players are all in. They want the show to go on, and they’re letting their tennis racquets do their talking by generously contributing towards disaster relief and recovery efforts with each service ace they hit. They realize that every little bit helps.

Stay tuned. A lot can happen between now and January 20, when the first main draw matches at Melbourne Park are due on court.

Kyrgios loves playing for Team Australia

On Tuesday evening, in front of a loud and enthusiastic crowd inside Pat Rafter Arena in Brisbane, Nick Kyrgios dug deep. For once, he kept his cool and let his tennis do his talking. For two hours and 34 minutes, the 29th-ranked Kyrgios and World No. 6 Stefanos Tsitsipas – two unlikely friends and competitors – put on a fantastic, entertaining performance that was filled with plenty of demonstrative service aces – 25 from Kyrgios and 18 by Tsitsipas – and some dazzling shotmaking that included blistering forehands, tweeners, and delicate drop shots. Each set went the distance and each was decided by a tie break. Kyrgios gave it his all.

When the rubber ended with Kyrgios hitting a powerful forehand winner that zoomed by Tsitsipas, the 24-year-old mercurial Aussie had earned a hard-fought and satisfying 7-6 (7), 6-7 (3), 7-6 (5) win over the 2019 Nitto ATP Finals champion. Immediately, Kyrgios fell to the ground and soaked in the applause of the supportive Australian fans. It kept Team Australia’s undefeated match record intact in the ATP Cup and Kyrgios’ win clinched a 3-0 start in Group F play.

Kyrgios, who came from 4-5 down in the the final tie-breaker to pull out a well-deserved victory, showed once again that he thrives in a team environment. It was his second big win in Brisbane. This time, he filled in admirably for Alex de Minaur (out with an abdominal strain) at No. 1 singles. Now, Kyrgios has compiled 21 wins over Top 10 opponents and it was his second career triumph in two meetings against Tsitsipas, who fell to 1-2 in the young 2020 season while Greece finished group play 0-3.

“It was exhausting,” said Kyrgios, smiling during an on-court interview moments after his victory against Tsitsipas. Together, the two young stars combined for 43 service aces and 115 winners. “It was a lot of fun. I knew it was going to be a very tough match. We had played once before and it went 7-6 in the third again. He’s amazing player. He’s so young. He’s going to do some special things in this world. I’m just glad we got the win.”

Kyrgios has hit an amazing 45 service aces in his two group play appearances and likely will hit many more before the ATP Cup is finished. He registered 20 against Germany’s Jan-Lennard Struff in his 6-4, 7-6 (4) win last Friday. With $200 per ace pledged going toward Australian Red Cross bushfire disasters relief and recovery efforts, that’s $9,000 alone that Kyrgios has raised with his racquet.

“All I’m trying to do is go out there and put on a bit of a show – win or lose,” said Kyrgios. Obviously, the aces are going to a thing that’s much bigger than tennis. I’m glad I got the win for the team. It was a lot of fun to be out here again.”

Next, Australia (3-0) travels to Sydney for the Final Eight and will face Group C winner Great Britain (2-1) in the quarterfinal round on Thursday at 10 a.m. With momentum on their side and Kyrgios at the ready – plus, plenty of fan support – the Aussies just might be a good bet to keep the inaugural ATP Cup in Australia.

What they’re saying

• Stefanos Tsitsipas on Greece’s 0-3 finish: “We had a difficult draw here in Brisbane, but we played with what we have. Canada, Australia … Germany, one of the strongest nations in the game, playing against, a small, tiny little nation like Greece, which has no history in tennis at all? You got to feel proud. We fought very hard and we wanted to prove to the rest of the world that (we) can play tennis anywhere in the world.”

• Team Australia captain Lleyton Hewitt on his team’s performance in Brisbane: “We came here to Brisbane to do a job. So today was nice. The quality of tennis was fantastic today and to be able to get through those two matches when the boys could have easily have taken their foot off the pedal today, and that’s not what we’re about. And when you wear the green and gold it’s not what it’s about. So I think everyone can be pretty proud of these two today.”