Given the national state of emergency caused by the bushfires engulfing the country, the Australian tennis team could have been forgiven for forgoing the ATP Cup.
Instead the team, inspired by the unlikely figure of Nick Kyrgios, provided many of the highlights at the inaugural tournament in Sydney, which concluded yesterday.
Australia sailed through their group without losing a single match before beating Great Britain 2-1 in the quarter-finals, with Kyrgios winning his match against Cameron Norrie 6-2, 6-2, before helping team-mate Alex de Minaur, who had lost to Dan Evans, win the decisive doubles match on a tiebreak, 18-16.
The 24-year-old pledged prior to the event to donate $200 AUS for every ace he hit at tournaments throughout January to help those affected by the unprecedented bushfires, which have so far killed at least 27 people and more than 1bn animals.
Kyrgios not only received widespread praise for this but also convinced other players to join the cause, while Team Australia agreed to donate $100 AUS for every ace at the ATP Cup too.
“I don’t care about the praise too much. We have the ability and platform to do something,” a visibly upset Kyrgios said following his win against Germany’s Jan-Lennard Struff last week.
“It’s going to all the families, firefighters, animals, everyone who is losing homes, losing families. It’s a real thing. My hometown is Canberra and it’s got the most toxic air in the world. That’s sad. It is tough.”
Kyrgios has never shied from the spotlight but more often than not it has been unsporting or unprofessional behaviour that has landed him in the headlines.
His talent is plain for all to see, but his attitude and motivation have repeatedly been called into question and cited as reasons why he is yet to fulfil his potential.
The world No29 has at times played better when he feels he has something to prove, so it is interesting, then, that the crisis in Australia and his desire to help appeared to inspire a surge in form.
In one of his standout performances, Kyrgios beat Stefanos Tsitsipas, who won last year’s ATP Finals and has been heralded as the big star of the next generation, in a thrilling three sets.
It is as though the man who called Rafael Nadal “salty”, Novak Djokovic “obsessed with being liked” and as recently as last year threw his chair onto a court and said he had been distracted by “a really hot chick in the crowd” when losing to Roger Federer, found a reason to get serious on the court.
While this hasn’t cut out his usual antics – he reportedly heckled Djokovic during the Serbian’s quarter-final match – he appears to have come out fighting as he sometimes has when his back was against the wall, only this time it is his country suffering.
The impression Kyrgios can give is that he would not play tennis unless he had to, yet he also proactively encouraged Tennis Australia to organise an exhibition match to raise additional funds to help the country.
They obliged, so Federer, Nadal and Djokovic, whose Serbia team beat Nadal’s Spain in the ATP Cup final, are due to join him at an exhibition tournament taking place in Melbourne this Wednesday ahead of the Australian Open.