An emotional Nick Kyrgios says he drew on the spirit of Kobe Bryant in his bold bid to bring down Rafael Nadal at Melbourne Park.
- Nick Kyrgios says he was motivated by what Kobe Bryant stood for in the crunch moments of his Rafa Nadal match
- Kyrgios says he thinks he has ‘made progress as a human’ this month
- Nadal praised Kyrgios’s play and attitude throughout the Australian Open
The world number one had to pull out all the stops to end Kyrgios’s gallant Australian Open campaign 6-3, 3-6, 7-6 (8-6), 7-6 (7-4) in a compelling fourth-round affair on Monday night.
In a touching tribute to Bryant, Kyrgios entered Rod Laver Arena in a Kobe number eight LA Lakers jersey, seemingly in tears, then used the NBA superstar’s death as motivation to keep fighting to beat his bitter rival.
“It’s horrible news. If anything, it motivated me. If you look at the things he stood for, what he wanted to be remembered by, I felt like, if anything, it helped me tonight,” Kyrgios said.
“When I was down a break in the fourth, I was definitely thinking about it. I fought back.”
A crusader for bushfire victims, donating $200 for every ace he hit, Kyrgios has been playing for higher forces all summer and said Bryant’s death in a helicopter crash drove him against Nadal despite backing up from the longest, most physically brutal match of his career in the third round.
“I mean, I’m a [Boston] Celtics fan. When I saw Kobe do what he does, break the hearts of so many Celtics fans, it was tough to see,” Kyrgios said.
“I don’t think they make them like him any more. He was different, the way he trained, the way he did things, the way he played. He was special.
“Just sad. Like, when I think about my life, [it’s] literally basketball. When I think about it, it’s heavy. It’s tough.”
Now without a quarter-final appearance at a grand slam in five years, Kyrgios said he was shattered to have fallen short once again at his home major.
“These are the matches that I want to win the most,” he said.
“Rafa was really good tonight. Played too good. I had chances, I was a couple of points away from the third set and the fourth set.
“But, overall, this summer has been fun. I feel like I’ve made progress as a human.”
The 24-year-old has also made progress in the rankings, with the one-time world number 13 projected to return to the top 20 for the first time since August, 2018.
Even Nadal, a long-time vocal critic, can see the strides he’s made.
“When he is playing like today with this positive factor, he gives a lot of positive things to our sport,” Nadal said.
“I encourage him to keep working like that, because he is one of the highest talents.
“I saw him playing during the whole tournament almost every match, and he has been great, with very positive attitude.
“Personally, I like to watch him play when he’s doing that way. I think everybody likes to watch Nick play when he’s able to play like this.
“His talent is to be one of the best of the world, without a doubt, with good chances to fight for every tournament.”