Tennis ace Nick Kyrgios is one title away from becoming the first Australian in more than a decade to qualify for the ATP World Tour Finals.
Kyrgios opens his Shanghai Masters campaign on Tuesday night with a golden opportunity to edge ever closer to sealing a spot in next month’s eight-man season-ending championship in London.
Already in elite company as a three-time tour winner in 2016, Kyrgios can all but secure his ticket to London with victory in China or embarking on deep runs in his final two events of the year in Basel and Paris.
If he does so, Kyrgios will be the first Australian since dual champion Lleyton Hewitt in 2005 to qualify for the annual showpiece.
At 21, the two-time grand slam quarter-finalist would also be the youngest since Juan Martin del Potro in 2009.
First, though, Kyrgios must negotiate a testing draw in Shanghai to boost his hopes of joining the creme de la creme of men’s tennis at the O2 Arena from November 12-20.
Fresh off his Tokyo triumph on Sunday night, Kyrgios will face Novak Djokovic’s Wimbledon conqueror Sam Querrey on Tuesday night.
A win over the American would progress Australia’s world No.14 to a second-round contest against German qualifier Mischa Zverev, likely for the right to play seventh seed Tomas Berdych.
Djokovic, the top seed and world No.1, looms as a potential quarter-final hurdle for Kyrgios, who enters the tournament in 12th spot in the race to London.
The Canberran is less than 800 points behind eighth-placed Dominic Thiem, who is under threat from Kyrgios – and other World Tour Finals hopefuls Marin Cilic, David Goffin and Berdych – as he sits out the Masters 1000 event in China.
The champions in Shanghai and Paris will collect 1000 points, the runners-up 600, semi-finalists 360 and quarter-finalists 180, while there are half as many points up for grabs in Paris.
Djokovic, Wimbledon champion Andy Murray, US Open winner Stan Wawrinka and Milos Raonic have all booked their tickets to London, with Kei Nishikori, Gael Monfils and Rafael Nadal pressing hard to join them.
Hewitt was the last Australian to contest the season-ending championship in 2004, finishing runner-up to Roger Federer, after winning back-to-back crowns in 2001-02.
He qualified for a fifth time in 2005, after debuting in 2000, but skipped the event to be with wife Bec for the birth of their first child.