Nick Kyrgios has the ability to be the best player in the world if he can harness his mercurial talent, Australian tennis great Rod Laver says.
The 11-time grand slam title winner has launched a strong defence of Kyrgios, who will enter this month’s Australian Open as the most highly fancied local male after climbing to No.13 in the world.
Kyrgios has shown hot form in this week’s Hopman Cup in Perth, which has served as his comeback from an eight-week ATP suspension after an infamous tanking incident at the Shanghai Masters.
Laver believes the heavily-scrutinised 21-year-old has the raw talent and ample time to develop the mental strength needed to take his game to another level.
“Ability-wise, he could be the best tennis player in the world, only he is the one that gets in his way” Laver said in Melbourne on Thursday.
“He plays some magnificent tennis but then something gets in the way and he finds himself being challenged by other things, whether behaviour or whatever seems to come up.
“Looking at maybe (his) maturity … he’s still very young on the world tour. I want him to be the best player in the world. We need another great Australian champion.”
Kyrgios has made plenty of headlines for his behaviour on the court, including arguments with umpires and spectators and a sledging incident involving world No.4 Stan Wawrinka.
But Laver said it was difficult for young players to build resolve, adding that Kyrgios was far from alone in the modern era when it came to unsavoury behaviour on the court.
“I didn’t throw my racquet heaps … maybe I took (my disappointment) inward,” Laver said.
“But a lot of the players, you can name any number that you can say ‘well, that wasn’t good behaviour’.
“If it’s competition that isn’t going his way, how do you get out of it? It’s a learning curve in the game of tennis.”
Laver, who criticised Kyrgios for his “ugly behaviour” at Wimbledon in 2015, said the new breed of local stars had a responsibility to inspire future generations.
“Frank Sedgman was here (when) I was all of 14, 15. He came to the court and hit a few balls with me,” Laver said.
“Those sort of thrills inspire you to being a better player and a better person, I’m sure.
“The responsibility with you and a racquet goes beyond hitting a tennis ball. Look at Roy Emerson, John Newcombe and Tony Roche … we represented Australia the way I guess all of us thought it should be represented.”
Laver was speaking at Melbourne Park where a statue in his honour was unveiled outside his namesake arena.