MELBOURNE (Reuters) - A first-week choke by leading woman Sam Stosur and a grudging loss by ageing men’s warrior Lleyton Hewitt has generally been the blueprint for the home players at the Australian Open, but teenage talent Nick Kyrgios may be poised to buck the trend of local underachievement.
Kyrgios gave notice of his prodigious talent with a quarter-final appearance at Wimbledon after knocking out Rafa Nadal in one of the bigger shocks of the tournament.
At 19, the world number 53 is the youngest player in Melbourne by some distance but is a year stronger in the legs since his second round exit to canny Frenchman Benoit Paire, who hauled in the tiring Australian from two sets down.
An untimely back niggle has hurt Kyrgios’s preparations but the chance to sign off his teenage years at Melbourne Park was too much to resist.
“I love the atmosphere here. The crowd’s obviously really behind you,” he told reporters at Melbourne Park on Sunday.
”I love that part of it. You know, just looking at it, I‘m 19. My last grand slam as a teenager. I‘m going to embrace that.
“I‘m going to take advantage of the last grand slam I‘m going to play. I‘m starting to grow up and I think mature a little bit more. Yeah, looking at it, it’s not bad playing a grand slam in my 19th year.”
Kyrgios’s maturity has not meant shelving his taste for a bit of ‘bling’ in his appearance, and at his pre-tournament press conference he sported sculpted eyebrows to go with his heavily-styled haircut and a chunky chain around his neck.
Highly active on social media, Kyrgios is already hot property for companies targeting youth markets, but Australia remains anxious for more success from the Canberra teenager.
That would allow local fans to not put their hopes on the polarising Bernard Tomic, who also broke through for a Wimbledon quarter-final as a teenager in 2011 but has failed to reach such heights since.
Tomic, whose father and coach John Tomic was banned from the tour for a year for assaulting his son’s former hitting partner, has rarely strayed far from controversy and plumbed a new low last year by recording the quickest defeat in ATP Tour history when losing 6-0 6-1 to Jarkko Niemenin at the Miami Masters.
Having parted ways with management company IMG, Tomic, who faces 95th-ranked German Tobias Kamke in the first round, has talked of knuckling down in his career in the leadup to the Australian Open and at 22, he has time on his side.
Editing by Amlan Chakraborty