An emotionally drained Nick Kyrgios used the tragic death of NBA legend Kobe Bryant as motivation as he pushed Rafael Nadal to the limit in their Australian Open grudge match.
The polarising Australian tennis player earned the respect of fans and his arch rival after bowing out of the grand slam in a pulsating four setter at Melbourne’s Rod Laver Arena.
Kyrgios paid heartbreaking tributes before and after the match, which was played just hours after Bryant’s death in a helicopter crash near Los Angeles shocked the sporting world.
The emotion became too much for Nick Kyrgios as he entered Rod Laver Arena for his Australian Open fourth round match played hours after the death of Kobe Bryant
Kyrgios, a huge basketball fan, was in tears as he walked onto Rod Laver Arena wearing Bryant’s LA Lakers jersey in tribute to the star.
With Bryant’s famous number 8 emblazoned on his jersey, Kyrgios struggled to contain his emotions during the warm-up.
The Boston Celtics fan turned up to his post-match press conference after the loss wearing a Lakers singlet and was asked about the late sporting legend as soon as he sat down.
‘I never met Kobe. But basketball is practically my life. I’ve been following it for as long as I can remember,’ Kyrgios said.
‘It was pretty emotional when I woke up to the news today. It was pretty heavy, like all day.
Kyrgios said he used the tragic news to ‘motivate’ himself in his match up with Rafael Nadal.
‘Obviously I was having basketball on at my house, watching the games. It was heavy. Yeah, it’s just tough. It’s horrible news.’
He revealed Bryant inspired him to keep fighting in the fourth set where he looked down and out against the world number one.
Kyrgios clawed his way back and forced the set into a tie-break, where he lost the match.
‘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.’
Kyrgios then made the ultimate tribute to Bryant.
‘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,’ he said.
‘Just sad. Like, when I think about my life [it] is literally basketball. When I think about it, it’s heavy. It’s tough.’
It’s been an emotional-charged month for Nick Kyrgios, who broke down before the match
Kyrgios became the first player to steal a set off Nadal at the tournament when he levelled the match up at one set a piece after the second set.
‘As I said tonight I was only a couple points away from winning,’ Kyrgios said
‘I felt a lot closer this time, especially at 5-5 in the third set, he played some unbelievable points. I feel like if I’d got that third set I would have really been on top of him. The time we played at Wimbledon I felt I wasn’t playing as good.
‘Hopefully I can keep doing it, I just try to bring it day by day and try to bring positive vibes all the time.’
Kyrgios wore a Lakers jersey during his warm-up as a heart-warming tribute to Bryant. 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,’he said.
It’s been a life-changing month for the 24-year-old, who has also been touched by the ongoing national bushfire disaster, which has claimed 33 lives and hundreds of homes this season.
‘I feel like I’ve made progress as a human. A tennis player, I don’t really care about as much,’ Kyrgios said.
‘But yeah, I mean, I feel good … I want to keep going in this direction, for sure.
‘I always had pretty good perspective. If anything, it did fuel me and made me play harder. They’re (the bushfires) still going, everything is still going.’
‘Yeah, I mean, the last month for me has been pretty hectic, been pretty emotional. I’m pretty tired. I want to try to continue to help where I can.’
Although he then added: ‘I’ve been like this for a long time. It’s just you guys probably learnt some new things about me. I haven’t changed much, to be honest.
Wearing a Lakers cap, an emotional Nadal also wiped back tears when asked about Bryant in his post-match interview after progressing to the quarter finals for the 41st time in a grand slam.
‘Well, what can I say? I wake up this morning with this terrible news,’ Nadal told US legend John McEnroe on-court.
‘And yeah, it’s super sad. He had been one of the greatest sportsmen in the history. Yeah, just he deserved a round of big applause.’
‘I didn’t spend time with him but I met him. I have very close friend that he was playing with him for a long time. And he always told me that he is the spirit of hard worker. He always wanted more.
‘He always wanted to increase his level. He had been an inspiration for the world of sport and a lot of kids. Yeah, it’s one of these day that you want to forget. Of course Kobe Bryant will be in our hearts and minds for the rest of our lives.’
Nadal also paid tribute to Bryant on social media before the match.
World number one Rafael Nadal was almost close to tears when asked about Kobe Bryant after his four set win on Monday
‘Horrible news today. Tragic the death of one of the greatest sportsman in the world. Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna and other passengers. My condolences to his wife and families. I am in shock,’ Nadal posted on Instagram.
The Spaniard needed four sets and two tiebreaks to down Kyrgios 6-3 3-6 7-6 7-6 in an emotion-charged showdown at Melbourne Park.
And during the first set it appeared the emotion of the occasion, coupled with physical fatigue after his four-and-a-half-hour battle against Karen Khachanov two days before, would prevent him making a fight of it.
But Kyrgios roused himself at the start of the second set and, had he taken an extraordinary third set, the outcome might have been different.
Ash Barty is now Australian’s last remaining hope in the singles draw, who will take on Czech world number seven Petra Kvitova on Tuesday afternoon.
Things began to unravel for Kyrgios late in the third set when he lost his cool during a heated exchange with the match umpire.
Nick Kyrgios (left) has bowed out of the Australian Open after losing to Rafael Nadal (right) on Monday night
Kyrgios smashes his racquet during the tie-break of the third set in his showdown against Rafael Nadal on Monday night
Kyrgios lost his cool at the match umpire to complain about the linesman during an intense third set. Nadal was up 6-5.
‘Why is he laughing?,’ he asked, seemingly taking aim at a linesman after he successfully challenged a missed call on a Nadal serve.
‘He turned around and starts laughing. It is not a game, it is not a joke. It is embarrassing. He turns around and he starts laughing. That’s what I’m talking about.’
The set went into a tie-break, where a violation was awarded against Kyrgios after he smashed his racquet in frustration after losing a point.
Kyrgios went on to lose the tie-break to be down two sets to one.
‘Obviously breaking that racquet he was getting frustrated,’ Australian legend Lleyton Hewitt said.
‘He had worked so hard to stay in this third set and get it to a tie break. If he goes down 2-1 sets it is going to be an awfully tough climb to get back and win in five.’
Rafael Nadal (right) paid tribute to the fighting spirit his arch rival Nick Kyrgios (left) in his post-match interview
The two opponents embraced on a day the sporting world was rocked by the tragic death of NBA legend Kobe Bryant
A frustrated Kyrgios throws away his racquet, smashing it in the process. He also had a violation awarded against him.
Nadal was cruising towards victory in the fourth set before Kyrgios broke his serve in a late fightback and forced the set into a tie-break, where Nadal proved too good.
The arch rivals shared a warm embrace after the match before Spaniard paid tribute to his long-time rival.
‘It was a very tough match,’ Nadal said.
‘Against Nick you are never under control. If you have a mistake, like I had in the second set with one serve of mine that I had a mistake, then he has a break it is so difficult to break him again. It happened again in the fourth.
‘What can I say about Nick? 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.’
The Australian star arrived on court wearing a LA Lakers jersey in honour of Kobe Bryant, whose death rocked the world
Nick Krygios put everything on the line as he came from one set down to win the second set against the world number one
Kobe Bryant, 41, and his daughter Gianna, 13, are among nine killed in helicopter crash near Los Angeles
Kobe Bryant, one of the NBA’s all-time greatest players and an athlete of global renown, was killed at age 41 on Sunday in a helicopter crash near Los Angeles along with his 13-year-old daughter and seven on board, officials said.
Bryant rocketed to fame as an 18-year-old rookie and played 20 years for the Los Angeles Lakers, 18 as an all-star forward, and won five NBA championships.
His death sent shockwaves through the National Basketball Association, which he helped propel to international prominence, and stunned fans around the world.
The cause of the crash was unknown, and an investigation by the Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board could take months.
Kobe Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter Gianna (pictured together in December) and seven others were killed when his private helicopter crashed in Calabasas, California, on Sunday morning. A Los Angeles Police Department spokesman confirmed their Air Support Division was grounded, adding: ‘The weather situation did not meet our minimum standards for flying’
Bryant was known since his playing days to travel frequently by helicopter to avoid the Los Angeles area’s notorious traffic.
His Sikorsky S-76 craft went down in low clouds and foggy weather shortly before 10 a.m. (1800 GMT) in hilly terrain just outside Calabasas, California, about 40 miles (65 km) northwest of central Los Angeles, sparking a brush fire, officials said.
‘There were no survivors,’ county sheriff Alex Villanueva told a news conference, saying the flight manifest showed nine people on board. He declined to identify them.
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver confirmed Bryant and his daughter Gianna were among those killed, and sent condolences to Bryant’s wife, Vanessa.
‘He was one of the most extraordinary players in the history of our game, with accomplishments that are legendary,’ Silver said, as tributes poured in from players, politicians and entertainers.
The fire and debris field from the crash spread over a quarter-acre of steep terrain in the grass-covered foothills of the Santa Monica Mountains, county Fire Chief Daryl Osby said.
Others on board besides the pilot were a teammate from Bryant’s daughter’s basketball squad and a parent of the teammate, NBC News reported.
Orange Coast College baseball coach John Altobelli was also one of the victims, the Orange County Register said, citing assistant coach Ron La Ruffa.
Weather was likely to figure prominently in the crash investigation. Fog in the area was so bad that the Los Angeles Police Department had grounded its helicopter fleet on Sunday morning, the Los Angeles Times and CNN reported.
The smoking wreckage of the helicopter which crashed on a California hillside on Sunday morning, killing all nine people on board including NBA legend Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna