By Ian Ransom
MELBOURNE (Reuters) - An upbeat but calm Nick Kyrgios heads into the Australian Open feeling confident about his mental game and keen to keep a level head through the season after a "roller-coaster" ride in 2017.
The 22-year-old Australian clinched his fourth title at the lead-up Brisbane International, easing concerns over a troublesome hip while raising excitement levels about his prospects at his home grand slam.
It has been an encouraging start for Kyrgios, who has always struggled to control his emotions while wielding one of the most devastating games on the ATP Tour.
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After claiming three titles in an encouraging 2016, last season had its moments, and he showed impressive form during the 'Sunshine Swing' in North America, beating Novak Djokovic twice and pushing Roger Federer to the wall in a classic final at the Masters 1000 tournament in Miami.
But the year was largely deflating, as he was bundled out early from the grand slams while battling hip problems through most of them.
"I think last year there were periods where I was really good and really bad," he told reporters at Melbourne Park on Saturday.
"But at the end of the day, I just need to know it's a long year. I can't expend too much energy, you know, on other things.
"I want to kind of ride the highs, not as high as I usually do. If I lose a match, at the end of the day it's a tennis match.
"I kind of want to keep it even-keeled throughout the whole year rather than being such a roller-coaster ride."
Often in hot water for his on-court conduct and sometimes abrasive with his off-court demeanor, Kyrgios has polarized home fans raised on a diet of never-say-die grand slam champions like Lleyton Hewitt and Pat Rafter.
Sections of the Melbourne Park crowd jeered him as he suffered a meltdown to lose to Andreas Seppi in five sets in the second round last year.
Two years before they were chanting his name in adulation when he downed the Italian to reach the quarter-finals at the opening grand slam of the season.
Pundits have tipped 17th seed Kyrgios, who opens against unheralded Brazilian Rogerio Dutra Silva, to go deep in this tournament but the Australian trotted out the well-worn cliche of "one game at a time."
"I'd like to do well. I'm not going to say quarter-finals, semi-finals, anything like that," he said.
"Everyone started the year hungry. They can play great quality tennis. I don't want to look ahead at all."
(Editing by John O'Brien)