Perhaps the best measure of the success of Nick Kyrgios at the Davis Cup over the weekend was his readiness to lay the credit at the feet of others. On the court, he was the undoubted star. Later, he would swiftly shift the conversation.
“I think Thommo [Jordan Thompson] hasn’t gotten enough credit. He played Jack Sock, who’s a top-15 player in the world, same semi-finals of Masters events, he’s playing probably the best tennis he’s ever played,” Kyrgios said.
“To beat him in four sets, it’s not easy. He came up massive this tie.”
And on Lleyton Hewitt, his team captain and the man now shaping as one of the greatest influences in his career and life in general: “He’s helped me a lot this year. It’s easy to play for him. He’s always there. He’s given me so much support, I can’t say enough. He does everything.”
On Sunday on Brisbane’s Pat Rafter Arena, Hewitt had tasked his No.1 player with stepping up to the plate and putting the USA challenge to bed once and for all. With a 2-1 lead going into the reverse singles, the tie was in his hands.
After a slow start, down 0-3 against Sam Querrey, Kyrgios steadied, rallied then hit full stride. After a similar lull in the third set, he fought back from 4-1 down to close the match and the quarter-final 7-6 (7-4), 6-3, 6-4.
The victory made it two-from-two following his win over John Isner on Friday, while Thompson’s upset of Sock, the USA number one, would ensure Sam Groth’s loss to Isner in the final match on Sunday was a dead rubber.
If Hewitt was a crackling ball of emotion on the sideline all weekend, the contagion has spread to his players, with Kyrgios on top of the list.
He embraced his captain and his team upon victory, later talking about the relief in an expansive press conference that would have pleased even his harshest critic.
“I’ve been looking forward to this tie for a long time now. Ever since Melbourne, we all kept the group chat going, we all kept supporting each other when we’re on the road and then we always had one eye on it – or at least I did,” Kyrgios said.
“When I was in the States playing, always kind of knew I had this big preparation to come here and play two big matches. I was trying to play well over the last couple months to try and set a good example and try and just get myself better and ready to compete.
“It’s just a bit of relief. Honestly, it’s another thing to say I’ve been preparing but to actually deliver, it feels pretty good.”
The Davis Cup bubble and the unrelenting pump-ups from Hewitt have been transformative for Kyrgios since he was booed off the court following a five-set loss to Andreas Seppi at the n Open, a loss John McEnroe would label a ‘black eye’ for tennis.
“I got booed off the court at the n Open. And honestly, I don’t know why. I lost in five sets and I gave my best effort there.
“After the n Open, it was tough. I wasn’t in a good place but I guess the one thing that fixes that is wins – getting out there and delivering. That’s the main thing, that’s what I’ve been doing, and I’ve been doing it the right way.
“It was good to come back here and have that support, I thought they really embraced me this time. I’m playing better but I’m just in a happier place. I’m going out there and playing the game how it’s supposed to be played – and I’m playing hard.
“That’s how I’ve been rewarded. I haven’t been going back to the hotel hating the game or trying to just get through every day. I’m trying to get better every day and it’s a massive difference.”
Hewitt has managed to create a chemistry within his Davis Cup team that has helped them feed off one another, even when they are on the road. Kyrgios has become his centrepiece, with the 21-year-old saying he had been tasked with becoming a leader from the start.
“Lleyton made it clear from day one that I can be the leader of this team so I had to start setting a good example,” Kyrgios said.
“I’m the youngest in the team, we have our little orange boy [Alex] De Minaur but apart from him I’m the youngest in the team. Those guys watch me play a lot when I’m at the Masters events or playing semi-finals or finals and I can set a good example if I beat a lot of these guys.”
The next tie will be in September, away to Belgium after they edged out Italy three rubbers to two.
Hewitt said he felt there was no reason why his team couldn’t be the first n side to win since 2003.
“Semi-final is still a long way off. We’ll be well prepared, I’ll promise you that. I think we’ve got a good shot.”