Nick Kyrgios may never win a grand slam but ultimately his legacy may extend beyond trophies and ranking points.
Arguably the most complex character in professional tennis, Kyrgios has proven to be an enigma on-and-off court.
At his best, the Canberran entertains like few other players. He possesses a captivating highlight reel, dazzling spectators around the world with a style of play that is a mix of finesse and bludgeoning power.
But at his worst, Kyrgios has made even his biggest fans cringe with his episodes of racquet-smashing and umpire clashes.
And while those polarising images of Kyrgios gain attention around the world, there is a part of the tennis player’s life that largely goes unnoticed.
Eighteen months ago, Kyrgios created a charity called the ‘NK Foundation’. The foundation’s purpose is to give underprivileged kids a chance to play sport, with a long-term goal of building a housing facility in Melbourne.
Through his foundation, Kyrgios has quietly immersed himself in the Canberra community when he’s not on the circuit. And in the process, he has created a legion of young fans who are seemingly undeterred by his ‘bad boy’ image.
One of those fans is Andrew Richards, the self-professed “number one fan” of Kyrgios. Richards admits he “hated” tennis when he was growing up but after watching a Kyrgios match at the Australian Open two years ago, everything changed.
The match inspired Richards to pick up a racquet for the first time and he has been playing ever since, inspired by the variety of Kyrgios’ game.
“He wasn’t doing what other players were doing. The fake drop shots, the slap [shot], it was really unorthodox, and it made me interested in tennis,” Richards says.
Richards won a competition through the ‘NK Foundation’ earlier this year to watch Kyrgios play at the Australia Open, where he was also invited to warm-up with his idol before a match.
Solly Fahiz, a board director of the NK Foundation, says engaging young players in the sport is not something Kyrgios ever expected to be credited for but it’s one of his main reasons for creating the charity.
“There’s not too many players an hour-and-a-half before they play one of the world’s best players on centre court that will still find time to bring kids onto the court to have a hit of the tennis ball and to have a bit of fun and muck around,” Mr Fahiz said.
Andrew Richards credits Kyrgios with his rapid improvement in the sport.
“I ended up finishing second in the ACT [in juniors]. I was telling Nick and he was so proud. He gave me a hug when I told him,” he said.
Tennis ACT has reported a staggering increase in participation numbers from 13,373 in 2016-17 to 32,679 in 2018-19.
Tennis ACT CEO, Kim Kachel, credits Kyrgios for some of the increased interest in the sport.
“I would say definitely it helps having someone locally that’s putting the sport in the papers and being a key figure for the sport,” Kachel says.
“He’s had nothing but positive influence here locally with his contributions.”
Kyrgios’ on-court meltdowns with match officials, spectator, opposing players and even himself are well-documented.
But Kachel says the forensic scrutiny of professional athletes isn’t always an accurate reflection of who they are as people. He says Nick Kyrgios is a case-in-point.
“All sports personalities have their ups and downs,” he says. “Nick gets a lot of attention in the media when things happen, but off-court people see the real and genuine side of him. The kids have met him and experienced things that they can hold onto.”
These contributions often come in the form of ‘open days’ regularly ran by Kyrgios through the NK Foundation.
At one such event last year in the north Canberra suburb of Kaleen, Kyrgios raised more than $5,000 for charity and participated in games with junior players.
Two of these locals were eight-year-olds Jolie and Harper who were lucky enough to play a match against Kyrgios, and afterwards he gave both a signed racquet as a memento for the day.
Lee Newlyn, Harper’s mother, said there is more to Kyrgios than what can be perceived on-court and through the media.
She says while parents may still have reservations about their kids idolising Kyrgios, she was pleasantly surprised by the way he genuinely interacted with the juniors.
“I feel on the day we got a sense of who Nick really is,” Ms Newlyn said. “His family was all around him and he was just there for the kids. He was pretty damn amazing.”
The next generation of players Kyrgios is inspiring to play the sport may prove to be his greatest legacy.
Solly Fahiz says that the NK Foundation may prove to be more crucial to Nick’s career than anything he could do on-court.
“If he can finish his career knowing that through his platform, he’s been able to do some good work in the community particularly for kids at-risk, I think he’d definitely consider that to be more of an achievement,” he said.
Andrew Richards says that despite wanting Kyrgios to become the best player in the world, titles won’t define his idol.
“I know he doesn’t love tennis, so I’m not sure that he’ll go into his 30s playing tennis,” he said.
“My wish for him is to stay happy on court, maybe win a Grand Slam, and I’ll be happy.”