Tennis legend Todd Woodbridge says a new-found ability to handle pressure has made Nick Kyrgios a serious contender for a breakthrough Grand Slam win at the upcoming Australian Open.
Kyrgios will get an early guide on his formline before heading to Melbourne Park too with a likely blockbuster clash with Rafael Nadal in Sydney as part of the inaugural $23 million United Cup team event.
The new format will feature matches in Brisbane, Perth and Sydney from December 29 and Australia has been drawn in the same pool as Spain, who Nadal, the defending Australian Open champion, will represent.
Alex de Minaur and Jason Kubler were the other men‘s singles players named in Australia’s eight-strong line-up but Kyrgios, who locked himself in to lead the the Aussie charge, will get first crack at Nadal after securing Australia‘s year-end top ranking.
The Aussies team, which also includes Ajla Tomljanovic, will be based in Sydney where they have been drawn in group D against Spain and Great Britain.
Kyrgios is currently ranked 22nd in the world following a breakout 2022 campaign that saw him reach the Wimbledon decider before he backed it up with a deep run at the US Open where he lost in the quarters.
The 27-year-old would have played Nadal in the semis at Wimbledon but his Spanish opponent withdrew due to injury which presented a clear path to take on Novak Djokovic.
The dream match-up with Nadal could come in Sydney in just a few weeks before Kyrgios seeks to become the first Aussie male to win the Australian Open since Mark Edmonson in 1976.
“I know we’d all love that, and I know he’d love that,” Woodbridge told the NCA NewsWire on Thursday.
“The thing about it is that we don’t need to pressure it. He’s learning to speak positively about dealing with pressure now, which I really like.
“Years ago, you’d hear him say ‘I don’t care’, whereas now the chat is about what he’s doing to prepare and that he knows what he has to do to win matches.
“He seems to understand his mood better which is allowing him to play better in bigger matches.
“In 12 months, he’s come on enormously. If he can maintain the ability to keep himself fresh and not put too much expectation and pressure on himself, then he’s certainly a contender to go well at the Australian Open.”
Former Australian Open semi-finalist Wally Masur says Kyrgios has come a long way and that his performance at Wimbledon won him over with the Australian public.
“Nick is a big personality and we were ready for him after Wimbledon,” Masur said.
“The quality of tennis was outstanding and then he backed it up in the US summer beating Daniil Medvedev twice.
“Nick showed us the brilliance that he has on court.
“He was knocking on the door against Djokovic at Wimbledon. Nick tends to look at things internally, but if he’d looked externally then he would have seen a very worried opponent at the other end of the court. He’s so close.”
It’ll be a tough group in Sydney with Spain bringing out the big guns for the newly-formed United Cup.
The legendary Nadal will team up with world No.13 Paula Badosa to fly the flag for Spain, with other notable players including Norway’s world No.4 Casper Ruud, Germany’s Alexander Zverev and Switzerland’s Belinda Bencic and Stan Wawrinka, along with Petra Kvitova of the Czech Republic.
For Australia, Tomljanovic will head into the United Cup full of confidence after reaching the final eight at Wimbledon and the US Open, and it’s why many people consider her a big chance of going all the way next year.
“She’s disciplined and works hard on her fitness, and what’s coming now is the confidence of knowing she can do it after a few quarter-finals at the big events,” Masur said.
“What comes with those wins over the top players is belief. If you look at the women’s draw, Iga has created a bit of a gap on clay and on hard courts. But you can throw a blanket over a lot of players after that, and Ajla is definitely in that mix.”
Brisbane, Perth and Sydney will each host two groups of three countries competing in a round-robin format from December 29 to January 4. Each tie comprises two men’s and two women’s singles matches and one mixed doubles match.
The winners of each group will play off, with the city winners advancing to the United Cup Final Four in Sydney to be played from January 6-8. The next best performing team from the group stages will complete the quartet.