MELBOURNE – Nick Kyrgios on Tuesday said Australia's bush-fire disaster had given him perspective and focus, making him realise there were more important things than getting mad on a tennis court.
Long a polarising figure for his on-court antics, the enigmatic 24-year-old has won new fans for his efforts to mobilise support for victims of the deadly blazes, and he was 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) 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.”
He said ahead of the tournament that he was finding it hard to concentrate on his home Grand Slam after the emotions sparked by the fires that have devastated huge tracts 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.
“I was definitely really nervous walking out there. But, I mean, the crowd was unbelievable. I got comfortable quite early in the match,” he 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.”
He was a driving force in drumming up fundraising efforts for the bush-fire recovery, including a Rally for Relief exhibition match which collected more than A$5 million (S$4.63 million).
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?” the world No. 26 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.”