LONDON (Reuters) - The support was familiar but the face was not as teenager Nick Kyrgios ushered in a new era for Australian tennis on the lush grass of Wimbledon with an epic five-set triumph against 13th seed Richard Gasquet.
The 19-year-old wildcard defended nine match points to beat the Frenchman 3-6 6-7(4) 6-4 7-5 10-8 in the second round of the tournament on Thursday, delighting the loud, proud Australian crowd on Court Two.
Emblazoned in green and gold, the unmistakable Australian tennis fans descended on the All England Club to witness the new kid on the block announce himself on the game’s biggest stage and roar him on as he held all observers captivated at the atmospheric bowl that is Wimbledon’s Court Two.
“I think, for me, it definitely helps,” Kyrgios, who turned professional only last year, told reporters when asked if he found the frequent chants distracting.
”I like to sort of engage with the crowd and show a lot of emotion out there. Knowing they’re going to tough it out with me for that long period really gets me going.
“It makes me enjoy the match a little bit more. I think it definitely helped me today.”
Australia had five representatives in the second round of the men’s singles - the most since 1999 - but Kyrgios’s compatriots Marinko Matosevic, Luke Saville and Bernand Tomic succumbed to seeded opponents on Wednesday and Lleyton Hewitt’s match with 15th seed Jerzy Janowicz was suspended because of rain until Friday.
The country boasts a host of male grand slam winners but it is 12 years since they could celebrate a champion, when Hewitt reigned supreme at Wimbledon.
“THE REAL DEAL”
Big-serving Kyrgios, who won as a junior at the Australian Open and in the boys’ doubles at Wimbledon, is hotly tipped to take over from Hewitt as the new standard bearer for Australian tennis.
”Kyrgios is the future of tennis,” Australian former Wimbledon champion Pat Cash told the BBC.
“There is no doubt he is the real deal. He has unbelievable talent ... He has incredible flair, a great touch and a fun attitude that gets people laughing. I think he is the most talented player I’ve seen out of Australia since Philippoussis.”
Hewitt, playing in his 17th consecutive tournament at the All England Club, has always enjoyed the support of the Australian tennis fans, nicknamed The Fanatics, but Kyrgios chants were quickly added to their repertoire.
With the shouts of “Hey Nicky, you’re so fine, you’re so fine you blow my mind, hey Nicky” still ringing in his ear, Kyrgios was asked whether the pressure to emulate Hewitt weighed heavy on his young shoulders.
”There’s a little bit of pressure there,“ he said. ”At the same time, they obviously see that you can win grand slams. It’s all motivation.
”But I‘m not really thinking too far ahead. I’ve got a long way to go still. I just have to stay on the ground and keep working hard.”
So how far does the teenager believe he can go?
“My goal is to become the No.1 player in the world,” he answered without hesitation.
His next obstacle on that path is fellow wildcard Jiri Vesely. The 68th-ranked Czech certainly won’t underestimate Australia’s bright new star in the third round.
Editing by David Goodman