Nick Kyrgios forms partnership with Malaysia Airlines
Forget his Wimbledon heroics against Rafael Nadal, Canberra tennis star Nick Kyrgios rates a five-set loss to little-known Frenchman Benoit Paire "his favourite match" of his breakout year.
Kyrgios credited the second-round match, where cramping crippled any hope of victory after he claimed the first two sets, as the spur that kickstarted his impressive first professional season.
Kyrgios' star has risen so rapidly Malaysia Airlines announced him as their new ambassador on Monday, banking on his showmanship to lift their profile after two major incidents with their aircraft this year.
The 19-year-old wants to avoid the dreaded second-year syndrome, and has confided in several of the game's biggest names on how to cope with the target on his back.
The aggressive world No.52 ended last year early with bone stress in his arm, but is now injury free and better prepared to handle the rigours of five-set tennis at Melbourne Park next month. His summer campaign kicks off at the Hopman Cup in Perth on January 4, before he heads to the Sydney International.
Kyrgios stunned Nadal and also saved nine match points against Richard Gasquet at the most famous venue in tennis, but the Paire epic remains his highlight.
"That was probably my favourite match of the year. That was an unbelievable atmosphere and I will never forget it," he said.
"Ever since then it's given me the motivation to keep going and be the best I can, because the whole nation was behind me. "It was an experience. I coudln't help the fact my body couldn't take any more that day, but I was only 18 then.
"I've grown a lot since then and played a lot of best-of-five matches since as well. I think I've matured.
"This time last year I was injured and didn't have that much practice under my belt, but I'm feeling a lot better this year."
Kyrgios is readying himself for an even tougher year, fully aware the game's best players now know his strengths and weaknesses and how to pick his game apart.
"Second time around they're going to be ready and they know what to expect, it's going to be a lot tougher," Kyrgios said.
"[French stars] Gail Monfils and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga were telling me a bit about that as well. Those guys really mentored me a bit when I was at the International Tennis League [in the Philippines earlier this month].
This year's John Newcombe medallist was hoping to be seeded for the Australian Open, but his aborted season quashed those hopes. He hopes to accomplish that in time for the French Open and Wimbledon mid-year.
"I think that's a realistic goal, to be seeded at grand slams now," he said. "That can obviously help you make a run in the grand slams, not meeting the big names in the early rounds."
Kyrgios teamed with Lleyton Hewitt in the ITL but insisted usurping the world No.50 as Australia's best player isn't a motivating factor.
"I don't see it as taking the throne from him, he's the leader by far," Kyrgios said.
"There wasn't much banter over there, the guy's won two grand slams and is a former number one. As long as he's playing he's always going to be the leader, that's the way I see it."
Already backed by Nike, Yonex and Bonds, Kyrgios was inundated by sponsorship requests after Wimbledon but hand picks only a few to concentrate on tennis.
Kyrgios' mother, Nill, was born in Malaysian as a princess, but she dropped the title when she moved to Australia with her mother.
"It's crazy. All this stuff happens pretty quick but I've got a great team around me who take care of that stuff so I can focus on tennis as much as I can," he said.
"Obviously what happened this year [with Malaysia Airlines] was very sad for all those families affected," he said.
"It's a good opportunity. It links back to my heritage and we're both striving to be the best we can be."
Susweta Bose [Masters in Mass Comm ]