Australian Open 2020: Nick Kyrgios Kobe Bryant gesture vs Rafael Nadal
Kobe Bryant was a young renegade while he wore No. 8 on his back for the Lakers — an aggressive tyro determined to prove he belonged.
But he wanted a clean slate after star teammate Shaquille O’Neal was traded in 2004 and adopted No. 24 as a way to mark his personal growth.
“When I first came in at 8, is really trying to ‘plant your flag’ sort of thing,” Bryant said. “I got to prove that I belong here in this league. I’ve got to prove that I’m one of the best in this league. You’re going after them. It’s nonstop energy and aggressiveness and stuff.
“Then 24 is a growth from that. Physical attributes aren’t there the way they used to be, but the maturity level is greater. Marriage, kids. Start having a broader perspective being one of the older guys on the team now, as opposed to being the youngest. Things evolve.”
Nick Kyrgios is now 24 and entering his eighth full season as a tennis pro. If that’s not spooky enough, last night’s match against Rafael Nadal might be remembered as the beginning of his own second chapter.
Kyrgios walked on to Rod Laver Arena wearing Bryant’s No. 8 jersey in honour of the NBA star’s tragic death early on Monday morning (AEDT), but his fighting display in a 6-3 3-6 7-6 7-6 defeat showed he’s ready to graduate to number 24.
Nadal wasn’t the only one to applaud the approach of the Aussie, but his endorsement arguably carries the most way given his position in the game and previous criticism of Kyrgios’ attitude.
“What can I say about Nick, when he’s playing like today with this positive attitude, he is good for our sport,” Nadal said in his on-court interview.
“I think when he is playing like today with this positive factor he gives a lot of positive things to our sport. I encourage him to keep working like that, because he is one of the highest talents, honestly he is one of the highest talents that we have on our Tour. And I like the Nick Kyrgios doing this.”
Kyrgios, who fought back tears as he entered the court, revealed he’d drawn motivation from Bryant during the tense encounter.
“It’s horrible news. If anything, it motivated me. If you look at the things he stood for, what he wanted to be remembered by, I felt like, if anything, it helped me tonight,” Kyrgios said.
“When I was down a break in the fourth, I was definitely thinking about it. I fought back.”
A crusader for bushfire victims, donating $200 for every ace he hit, Kyrgios has been playing for higher forces all summer and said Bryant’s death in a helicopter crash drove him against Nadal despite backing up from the longest, most physically brutal match of his career in the third round.
“I mean, I’m a Celtics fan. When I saw Kobe do what he does, break the hearts of so many Celtics fans, it was tough to see,” Kyrgios said.
“I don’t think they make them like him any more. He was different, the way he trained, the way he did things, the way he played. He was special.
“Just sad. Like, when I think about my life is literally basketball. When I think about it, it’s heavy. It’s tough.”
Now without a quarter-final appearance at a grand slam in five years, Kyrgios said he was shattered to have fallen short once again at his home major. “These are the matches that I want to win the most,” he said. “But, overall, this summer has been fun. I feel like I’ve made progress as a human.”
The 24-year-old has also made progress in the rankings, with the one-time world No.13 projected to return to the top 20 for the first time since August, 2018.
— with AAP
Originally published as Kyrgios can change Kobe singlet now