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Nick Kyrgios and Milos Raonic will play each other for the first time since Queen’s Club, 2016.Source:Getty Images
Some athletes like being on the big stage where the lights shine brightest.
And love him or loathe him, Nick Kyrgios is one of those.
The enigmatic Australian is an entertainer and he will be on a big arena when he takes on 17th seeded Canadian Milos Raonic in round one of the Australian Open.
Should he get through that, and all goes to plan based on rankings he would then have old rival Stan Wawrinka, Korea’s Hyeon Chung and fourth seed, Alexander Zverev.
For Kyrgios, it’s a tough draw but might be far from the horror suggested when the Australian Open draw was released on Thursday night. It’s actually a blessing in disguise.
For Raonic — who lost in the opening round last year to Slovak battler Lukas Lacko — it’s a potential disaster.
Those who look to discredit Kyrgios will point to his loss to French journeyman Jeremy Chardy in the second round in Brisbane this month and his lacklustre performance against Bernard Tomic at Kooyong as reasons why he is doomed against the big-serving Canadian, who made the 2016 Wimbledon final.
But look a little deeper into the Tomic match and know it’s harder to play the 26-year-old than it seems.
Tomic’s bizarre brand of tennis, which features off-pace shots mixed in with flat, slapped forehands is rarely easy for the best of them, let alone a player like Kyrgios, who thrives on a big game coming at him.
In Melbourne he gets just that.
Both Raonic and he are gunslingers. Big men with big forehands and even bigger serves. They both also have big talent — talent that has to a large degree gone unfulfilled.
Milos Raonic in action at the Fast4.Source:Getty Images
At one point Raonic was considered a favourite to join the likes of Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray atop the tennis world as a slam winner. It never happened.
In 2017, many thought Kyrgios would be a chance to join that group at the US Open after he made the final of a lead-up event in Cincinatti. That didn’t happen either — compatriot John Millman beat him in the first round at Flushing Meadows.
And while Millman is no slouch, Kyrgios — as is his wont at times — looked disinterested.
But against Raonic, on home soil, he will be anything but, as he again takes on a genuine star. It’s a category of player he has always thrived against.
While he may have been aloof against his countryman at Kooyong, slapping balls long as he searched for winners against what commentator Jim Courier once described as Tomic’s “junk tennis”, just days before in another exhibition against Nadal, the engaged, scintillating version of Kyrgios was in full flight as he took down the Spaniard in an exciting Fast4 exhibition 4-0 4-3.
The stats back him up.
Of the sport’s big dogs, he holds a winning record against Djokovic (2-0), is 3-3 with both Nadal and Zverev and only has a losing record against Federer (1-3).
Ever the rebel, Kyrgios always aims up against the big guns.Source:News Corp Australia
As for an endorsement of his skills against the best, look no further than Aussie coach Darren Cahill, who guided women’s star Simona Halep to the world No. 1 ranking and a French Open title last year.
After toppling Nadal, Cahill had the following to say on SEN SA Breakfast: “For someone like Nick, anytime he gets onto the court and he’s playing someone like that (Nadal) you see him gain an extra leg.
“It’s amazing how he does that. He just rises to the occasion and we got a good opportunity to see why he can be dangerous to so many players — and Nick can beat anyone on any given day.
“On his day in the first round and second round, he’s going to be by far the most dangerous floater.”
It is this Kyrgios that one hopes will turn up in Melbourne against a man he has a 3-3 career record against, with a 1-0 edge on hardcourts — the surface they’ll be stepping onto at Melbourne Park.
For Kyrgios, he’s also on the record as saying he still believes he has the game to take down the biggest guns in tennis. Even after his Kooyong loss.
“Definitely I struggled with a lot of things last year, my body was one and I was going through some tough times,” Kyrgios said.
“I feel like I am in a good space mentally. Ranking, that stuff is temporary, I know I can go out there and trouble Nadal, Federer, Djokovic. I’m not worried about going out there and losing three and four to BT (Tomic).”
As such, the supposed ‘horror’ draw should hold no fears for the Canberran and be one where he actually thrives rather than flounders. He’ll be hoping to emulate his Cincinatti run in 2017 when he beat David Goffin, Nadal and David Ferrer en route to the final.
It was a similar story in 2016 in Marseille when Kyrgios beat Richard Gasquet, Tomas Berdych and Marin Cilic on the way to the title.
Bring on the tough draw, it’s where Kyrgios can rise again.