Three-time Australian Open champion Mats Wilander is giving Nick Kyrgios the hurry up, saying “the most exciting thing in tennis” should be winning majors already.
In a startling coincidence and a reality check for the gifted youngster, when Lleyton Hewitt settled into retirement last week, Kyrgios was exactly the same age – to the day – as Hewitt when he reached world No.1 back in 2001.
But while the freakish Hewitt was already a grand slam champion and Davis Cup winner when he scaled the summit three months and two days shy of his 21st birthday, Kyrgios departed Melbourne Park still seeking his maiden ATP title.
“I’m doing everything I can to try to take over for what he’s left, but I’m a bit far away now. There’s a little work to do,” Kyrgios – now being mentored by the new Australian Davis Cup captain – said after his third-round Open loss to Tomas Berdych.
A teenage prodigy and junior grand slam champion like Kyrgios, Wilander parlayed his youthful talent into seven majors and climbed to world No.1 at 24.
Now the Swede is urging Kyrgios to get a move on.
“You need to kind of get going, especially if you have that game. He’s not a little guy with no shots who needs to get completely stronger. He should be (winning slams already). He’s got it,” Wilander told AAP.
“I saw Roger Federer say it: the train’s leaving the station at some point.
“You can’t get there when you’re 27. Well, you can because Wawrinka’s done it, but you’re looking to be a great player and win five or six majors; that’s the whole point of playing tennis, not to win one.”
Wilander is convinced Kyrgios will be a grand slam champion, saying the 20-year-old has all the weaponry and tennis smarts to land the sport’s biggest prizes.
But he wants more from Kyrgios.
“Potential is such a small part of it,” Wilander said.
“Hard work is the biggest factor and the will to suffer and learn from suffering.
“There’s a lot of great competitors out there who never did anything because they don’t have a passion to learn to get better because they might get better and have to face up to the realisation of ‘Oh, I’m not good enough’.”
Wilander says Kyrgios “doesn’t need to change his game, but he definitely needs to get stronger physically and polish his behaviour on court”.
“Because you cannot have the negativity in your body language,” he said.
“If you’re over the top, other players will just say: ‘I’m not losing to this guy’.”
“He’s still the most exciting thing we have. For entertainment value, you don’t know what you get, I don’t know if I’ve ever seen someone better.
“He’s so fun … He’s just completely `out there’ on the court. You can’t be `out there’ when you’re on the court. You have to be polished with your behaviour.
“I’m sure he’ll get there. I cannot see him not getting it together.
“He’s an intelligent guy. He just has to realise that you’re not there. You have a long way to go.”
LLEYTON HEWITT AT 20 YEARS, EIGHT MONTHS AND 28 DAYS
US Open champion (2001), semi-finalist (2000)
Davis Cup winner (1999), runner-up (2000)
Masters Cup winner (season-ending championship 2001)
12 career titles
Notable scalps: Andre Agassi, Pete Sampras, Yevgeny Kafelnikov, Marat Safin, Roger Federer, Todd Martin, Mark Philippoussis, Pat Rafter, Cedric Pioline, Juan Carlos Ferrero, Thomas Johansson, Goran Ivanisevic, Andy Roddick, Gustavo Kuerten
NICK KYRGIOS AT 20 YEARS, EIGHT MONTHS AND 28 DAYS (FIRST DAY OF HEWITT’S RETIREMENT)
Australian Open quarter-finalist (2015)
Wimbledon quarter-finalist (2014)
No career titles
1 final (Estoril 2015)
Notable scalps: Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer, Stan Wawrinka, Milos Raonic, Richard Gasquet