Roger Federer may have his doubts about Australia’s Nick Kyrgios, but the firebrand talent believes he is ready to become his nation’s first home grand slam winner in 40 years.
The 21-year-old hammered 77th-ranked Portuguese Gastao Elias 6-1 6-2 6-2 to storm into the second round of the Australian Open on Monday, preserving his injured knee for a stiffer test against Italian Andreas Seppi in the next round.
A quarter-finalist on his Wimbledon debut in 2014 and again at Melbourne Park in 2015, Kyrgios has long been touted as a future grand slam champion.
But Federer has questioned his ability to become one at Melbourne Park this year.
“So I know (Kyrgios) has got a big game, but he has to beat four, five amazing players,” Federer told a local newspaper, the Sydney Morning Herald, before the tournament.
“Can he do that right now? I’m not sure. He can beat them, but not back to back to back to back-to-back, maybe. But I’m happy if he proves me wrong.”
Kyrgios has always spoken of 17-times grand slam champion Federer with reverence and was reluctant, at first, to address his comments.
But he did not fail to mention his 1-0 winning record over the Swiss great, having beaten him in three sets in Madrid last year.
“Yeah, I mean, I’m not going to say anything back to him about it,” Kyrgios said after thrashing Elias in 85 minutes.
“Obviously it’s his opinion. Everybody has it.
“Doesn’t bother me at all. I know he’s the greatest of all time. I know I just want to do my own thing. I played him once, I beat him once.
“(But) if I didn’t think I’d win it, why would I play?” he added. “I think I can win it. I’ve beaten pretty much everyone in the draw before. So I think so.”
Kyrgios upset 14-times grand slam champion Rafa Nadal to reach the Wimbledon quarters but is yet to play defending champion Novak Djokovic on tour and holds a 5-0 losing record against top seed Andy Murray.
Still only 21, questions remain over his maturity in body and mind, and Federer is not the only one to ask if he has what it takes to win seven straight matches at a grand slam.
Kyrgios has also been hampered by a knee injury, which caused him to hobble through the Hopman Cup in Perth.
But the lanky, mohawked tyro moved well against Elias, firing 21 crisp winners in his first tour match since his 2016 season ended with an ATP suspension.
Kyrgios was sanctioned after the Shanghai Masters in October, where he berated fans, the umpire and walked off the court during a point.
But his ban was limited to three weeks after he agreed to see a psychologist.
Kyrgios said, apart from the knee, he was “not in a bad space” and had fun at his favourite Hisense Arena, the most rowdy of Melbourne Park’s showcourts.
“It’s hard for me to stay happy on the road,” he said of his meltdown in Shanghai.
“I know it’s a great opportunity to go and see new places. But I get homesick quite easily.
“It’s not easy being away from your home, being away from your girlfriend. I just wanted to be with them.”