MELBOURNE (Reuters) – Australia needs another great tennis champion and Nick Kyrgios has the talent to fit the bill providing he learns how to channel his frustration when things do not go his way, 11-times grand slam singles champion Rod Laver said on Thursday.
Laver, who completed two calendar year grand slams and is regarded by some as the greatest player of all time, was speaking at the unveiling of a statue in his likeness outside Melbourne Park’s main showcourt, which bears his name.
“Ability-wise, he could be the best tennis player in the world, only he is the one that gets in his way,” Laver said of the world number 13.
“He plays some magnificent tennis but then something gets in the way and he finds himself being challenged by other things, whether behavior or whatever seems to come up.
“Looking at maybe maturity … he’s still very young on the world tour. I want him to be the best player in the world. We need another great Australian champion.”
Kyrgios, 21, will return to tournament play at the Australian Open later this month after serving an ATP ban for not trying in a match at the Shanghai Masters, the latest in a series of incidents that have blighted his young career.
Laver, renowned for his gentlemanly conduct on and off court during his heyday in the 1960s, said Kyrgios, like other modern players, needed to learn how to deal with disappointment on court without racket-throwing and the like.
“A lot of the players, you can name any number that you can say ‘well, that wasn’t good behavior,'” the 78-year-old said.
“If it’s competition that isn’t going his way, how do you get out of it? It’s a learning curve in the game of tennis.”
Lleyton Hewitt was the last Australian man to win one of the four major titles when he claimed the Wimbledon singles crown in 2002.
The Australian Open begins on Jan. 16.
(Writing by Nick Mulvenney in Sydney, editing by Peter Rutherford)