Nick Kyrgios has found an unlikely ally in third round opponent Richard Gasquet, who defended the Australian’s wild-child reputation by claiming tennis is “lucky to have him”.
The two will clash on Friday with a spot in the fourth round – and a likely showdown with in-form fifth seed Kei Nishikori – on the line.
And while Kyrgios continues to attract criticism over his potential Olympic selection – swimming great Kieren Perkins the latest to argue against the 21-year-old heading to Rio – Gasquet leapt to his young rival’s defence.
“He has a very strong personality. That’s great. It’s good to have players like him,” Gasquet said following his straight sets drubbing of Bjorn Fratangelo.
“Outside of the court he’s very respectful. He’s a guy I like very much.
“Every time I’ve played him things went very well. I think we are all quite lucky to have a guy like him on the tour.”
Kyrgios came under heavy criticism for his slanging match with respected match umpire Carlos Ramos following what the Canberran labelled a tough code violation for shouting for a towel from a ball boy.
Tournament officials agreed the on-court punishment of a warning was sufficient and Kyrgios escaped a fine.
Whether Gasquet will escape with a win in front of his home fans is another matter.
While he holds a 4-2 advantage in their head-to-head record, including victories in their only two matches on clay, the Frenchman says Kyrgios is a more dangerous proposition than ever before.
“He’s made some progress this year. He’s stronger than last year,” Gasquet said.
“He’s won some big matches … He’s done great things. He’s a great player.
“He’s the best newcomer coming now, so it will be an incredible match for me.”