MELBOURNE (Reuters) - The hype over tennis’s “next big thing” Nick Kyrgios exploded in Australia on Wednesday as news of the teenager’s stunning upset of 14-times grand slam champion Rafa Nadal at Wimbledon broke.
Once a global super-power in the sport, Australia has waited in vain for a new men’s talent to take the mantle from an aging Lleyton Hewitt and 19-year-old Kyrgios’s stylish advance to the Wimbledon quarters propelled a tidal wave of accolades from former players, Hollywood celebrities and politicians.
“Extraordinary performance @NickKyrgios. Australia couldn’t be prouder of you - what a win & what an amazing attitude!” Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott tweeted.
“Aussie Aussie Aussie @NickKyrgios. Such composure and class! But hard off to @RafaelNadal ... one of the greatest of all time!” Australian actor Hugh Jackman also posted on Twitter.
A lead story on all of the major news networks and websites, Kyrgios’s hopes of “keeping it real” may be undermined by the constant comparisons to other barnstorming teenagers of yesteryear.
Where American great John McEnroe saw in Kyrgios a 17-year-old Boris Becker on the rise, Australian doubles great Todd Woodbridge gleaned a young Pete Sampras.
Australia’s 1987 Wimbledon champion Pat Cash likened Kyrgios to another big-server with Greek heritage in Mark Philippoussis, the twice grand slam finalist.
The outrageous between-the-legs winner that Kyrgios finessed from the baseline to leave Nadal flatfooted was seized upon as proof the 144th-ranked Kyrgios had the confidence and the game to mix it with the world’s greats.
“The ‘tweener’ perfectly summed up Kyrgios’s approach at Wimbledon — fearless, fun and a finesse-to-firepower ratio to match it with the world’s elite,” News Ltd media enthused.
Amid the feverish hype, Kyrgios’s vanquished opponent struck a rare note of caution.
“For me it’s very easy to say he can be top 10. I think he can do. It’s not an issue that I think he can not do it,” said Nadal.
“But when we see a young player that arrives to the tour and plays a great match or plays a great tournament, people say he will be the next big star.
“Some things are right — sometimes arrive, sometimes not. So it depends how the things improve over the next couple of months, years, for him. So if he is able to keep improving, he will be. If not, will be more difficult.”
Australia has previously been tantalized by the exploits of a rangy, local teenager who stormed into the quarter-finals at Wimbledon.
Bernard Tomic’s exhilarating run to the last eight in 2011 as a care-free 18-year-old was seen as the springboard to a top-10 ranking and grand slam success.
Now 21, Tomic, who was dumped from the second round by Czech Tomas Berdych, is ranked 86th in the world and has not since advanced beyond the fourth round at the majors.
Compared to Kyrgios, now glowing in the light as the “golden boy” from Canberra, Tomic’s brand has been tainted by a string of controversies.
He was kicked out of the Davis Cup team for attitude problems and stuck by his hotheaded father-coach John Tomic, who was convicted by a Spanish court of assaulting his son’s former hitting partner last year.
“The last couple of years have been tough for Aussie tennis fans as we’ve watched Bernard Tomic occasionally show his talent, but mostly abuse it, mock it, waste it,” wrote one News Ltd critic prior to Kyrgios’s Nadal clash.
“Yet still we’ve cheered for him, hoping against hope that it’s surely just a matter of time until his infantile mind catches up with his oversized body.
“Hasn’t happened yet and maybe it never will. Either way, it now scarcely matters because Nick Kyrgios is number one in our hearts.
“This likeable young Canberran has a lovely vibe about him. He’s aggressive but controlled, a killer on the court and a puppy dog off it.”
Writing by Ian Ransom; Editing by Greg Stutchbury