Kyrgios to McEnroe: 'You're going to make me tear up again'
NICK Kyrgios was left speechless by tennis legend John McEnroe's touching act after the 24-year-old star said Australia's bushfire disaster had given him perspective and focus, making him realise there were more important things than getting angry during a match.
Long a polarising figure for his on-court antics, Kyrgios has won new fans for his efforts to mobilise support for victims of the deadly blazes, and been welcomed at the Australian Open by huge roars.
He thrived in the Melbourne Arena atmosphere, grinding down Italian Lorenzo Sonego 6-2 7-6 (7-3) 7-6 (7-1) on Tuesday night to book a second-round berth.
"I was just really excited to get out here. Obviously a pretty emotional couple of months for all of us, so I just wanted to come out and put on a good performance," said the Australian, who has never gone beyond the last eight at a major.
"This is my favourite court in the world … I feel super comfortable. You guys are the best. I feel the support."
Speaking to Kyrgios in an on-court interview, American tennis great McEnroe praised Kyrgios for how he had spearheaded the fundraising effort for those affected by the fires.
"The way you've led the way for the bushfire relief thing and everything you've done, I've got to tell you, well done man," McEnroe said.
"Absolutely outstanding effort and I know a lot of people share the same view but I just wanted to tell you personally that I'm proud of you."
Kyrgios said "you're going to make me tear up again" before McEnroe went even further.
"I just want to say that from this point forward I want to donate $1000 to the bushfire relief fund for every set you win for the rest of this tournament," he said.
"Good luck for the rest of the tournament and I hope you go a long way, buddy."
Kyrgios shook his head in appreciation and revved the crowd up further as they ceered McEnroe's pledge, before the Aussie put his hand on McEnroe's shoulder. He tried to respond but couldn't find the words.
"I don't know what to say," Kyrgios said.
Kyrgios said ahead of the Australian Open that he was finding it hard to concentrate on his home grand slam after the emotions sparked by the fires that devastated huge parts of Australia.
But he rose to the challenge and the 23rd seed did so in largely drama-free fashion, keeping himself calm for most of the match against Sonego.
"I was definitely really nervous walking out there. But, I mean, the crowd was unbelievable. I got comfortable quite early in the match," Kyrgios said.
"I'm just playing for a lot more than myself. I've said it before … there's not necessarily added pressure. I feel like I'm playing for a lot of people."
Kyrgios was a driving force in drumming up fundraising efforts for the bushfire recovery, including a "Rally for Relief" exhibition match that collected $5 million, and donating $200 for every ace he serves this summer.
The controversial figure, who was handed a 16-week suspended ban in September after a series of outbursts, said the whole experience had given him pause for thought.
"I guess it's just a perspective thing, isn't it?" Kyrgios said. "Why am I really getting mad on the tennis court with everything going on?
"I felt like I was very focused today. Every match I've played this year, I've been pretty good. It's probably because of everything going on."
Kyrgios and Sonego were locked at 2-2 in the first set before the Australian claimed a first break and then motored through his next service game, dropping one point on Sonego's next serve to open a 5-2 lead before sealing the set.
They were inseparable in the second set as the lights on Melbourne Arena briefly went out, with the coach-less Kyrgios heard saying: "You know how hard it is to block that out, it's impossible."
But with ATP Cup captain Lleyton Hewitt watching from his box, Kyrgios came through a tense tie-breaker to go two sets ahead.
Displaying all his tricks, including some trademark "tweeners", Kyrgios closed out the match in another testing tie-breaker as the crowd went wild.
A second-round clash with France's Gilles Simon looms.
With Kyrgios not facing a single break point, McEnroe lavished praise on the Australian's booming serve.
"He has actually got one of the best serves I've ever seen," McEnroe said.
"Top 10, ever. He has got pop. He can do anything with it."