TENNIS NEWS - Polarising Nick Kyrgios says fear of media criticism drove him to victory in an epic five-set thriller that lit up the Australian Open, while being an "old savvy veteran" also helped.
The volatile Australian had a raucous crowd willing him to a stirring 5-7, 6-4, 3-6, 7-6 (7/2), 6-4 victory over impressive young Frenchman Ugo Humbert at his favourite John Cain Arena in a Wednesday night match.
Along the way, Kyrgios smashed a racquet, delivered underarm serves, played 'tweener' shots through his own legs, ranted at the umpire and saved two match points.
It finally woke up the pandemic-hit tournament on its third night after it had been bereft of its usual buzz, with crowds barely a quarter of their usual numbers because of Covid restrictions and a three-week delay.
Kyrgios, whose on-court antics divide tennis fans, said he was driven by not wanting to deal with the media negativity that would inevitably have followed if he lost in the second round.
"Well the media doesn't hold back on me. I felt like there was a lot of expectation on me, not playing for a year and coming back," he said ahead of a blockbuster third-round clash with world number three Dominic Thiem on Friday.
"You know, I wasn't expecting too much of myself, but of course when I'm match point down second-round exit, I was almost afraid.
"I was afraid to come into this (press conference) room, go to my Airbnb and just read about it and take it all in, take all the negativity in that I have already taken.
"That's what I was thinking about. I was just, like, my back's up against the wall and I just - I don't know. I don't know how I got out of it.
"It was insane. I don't know how I would have reacted to negativity this year."
Known for his flamboyant persona and spectacular on-court tantrums, Kyrgios has long been a provocative figure, racking up a string of fines and bans.
He is often lamented in the media as a loud mouth and wasted talent, but he has a big fanbase with 1.5 million Instagram followers and hundreds of thousands on Twitter.
"Many people don't think that I have a heart or compete as hard as they want me to compete from time to time," said the 25-year-old.
"(But) I have been through a lot ... I put in a lot of hard work when I was young. I've gone through a lot, and nothing's really been handed to me.