MELBOURNE (Reuters) – Australia’s new Davis Cup captain Lleyton Hewitt has backed the country’s bad boy of tennis Nick Kyrgios to “control” the image he projects and break through for a grand slam trophy in the next year or two.
Former world number one Hewitt was named caretaker captain Wally Masur’s successor on Tuesday and one of his most delicate tasks will be managing Kyrgios and his team mate Bernard Tomic, both of whom have strained relations with the sport’s national governing body and the public.
Each missed Davis Cup ties this season due to disciplinary problems and Kyrgios was given a suspended six-month ban for a lewd remark he made to two-times grand slam champion Stan Wawrinka during a match in Montreal.
Two-time grand slam champion Hewitt was also a polarising figure in his younger years, but age mellowed the hard-bitten campaigner and he will bow out of his playing career at the Australian Open to warm applause next January.
“He’s got to be who he is to a certain extent,” Hewitt told local media of Kyrgios. “I don’t think Nick realises how powerful his image can be.
“He is so good for the sport of tennis in so many ways if he can control it to a certain line because he brings so many different people to watch our great sport, and he does it not just in Australia but across the globe.
“And in some ways he is like a basketball player trying to play tennis, and it’s a great image for our game as long as he does it in the right way, and that’s obviously what we’re trying to put in place with him.”
Hewitt helped the team reach their first semi-final since 2003 this season and his first tie in charge will be at home against the United States in March.
He is likely to need all hands on deck if Australia hope to make another run to the semi-finals, so keeping Kyrgios and Tomic close will be paramount.
“When I came on (tour) I didn’t always have the best image out there, either, so it’s about dealing with that and learning from the mistakes that you’ve made over time,” he said.
“Nick’s, I think, really finding himself at the moment.
“But he has massive upside, as well, and I think with the right people around him and the right team around him I think he can really improve the next year or two (in) leaps and bounds and hopefully hold up a grand slam trophy.”
(Reporting by Ian Ransom; Editing by Sudipto Ganguly)