Kyrgios to lead Australia’s Open charge

All eyes and ears will be on Nick Kyrgios when he leads the local charge and begins his quest to end the host nation’s 40-year men’s title drought at the Australian Open on Monday.

The precocious youngster will be among five Australians in action when the season’s first grand slam gets underway at Melbourne Park.

The biggest names in tennis will chase a record $44 million in prize money at the biggest and richest annual event on the Australian sporting calendar.

Kyrgios made as many headlines in 2015 for his trash talk as his tennis feats but is vowing to let his racquet tell the story as he strives to become the first Australian to raise the Norman Brookes Challenge Cup since Mark Edmondson in 1978.

“I’m definitely playing a lot better,” last year’s quarter-finalist said ahead of his first-round tussles with Spain’s world No.67 Pablo Carreno Busta.

“Coming back this year, I feel like I’ve grown; physically made a lot of improvements.

“I feel as if I’m ready for whatever comes.”

Local bookmakers have 29th-seeded Kyrgios as the sixth favourite – behind only grand slam giants Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray, Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Stan Wawrinka – to land his maiden major in Melbourne.

The 20-year-old plays Carreno Busta in the night match at Hisense Arena, while Australian women’s No.1 Samantha Stosur starts her 14th Open campaign on Rod Laver Arena.

Stosur, the 25th seed, faces Czech qualifier Kristyna Pliskova in the feature women’s night match after Federer’s opener against Georgian Nikoloz Basilashvili.

Kyrgios’s Hopman Cup-winning partner Daria Gavrilova, Ajla Tomljanovic and teenage wildcard Omar Jasika also fly the Australian flag on day one of the championships.

Defending champions and world No.1s Novak Djokovic and Serena Williams also open their title bids on Monday.

Sentimental favourite Lleyton Hewitt begins his record 20th straight – and last – assault on the Open on Tuesday against fellow Australian James Duckworth.

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