Australian men’s tennis is on the up and as successful rankings-wise as it has been in over a decade. Kyrgios may have stolen the spotlight but it is Tomic who has been galvanised. Add in the likes of Duckworth, Kokkinakis and Groth and Australia is indeed resurgent. What started out as #NKrising is most certainly #AUSrising.
Twitter followers of Nick Kyrgios, probably the most well-known of Australia’s up and coming male tennis players, will be familiar with his self-referential sign-off hashtag #NKrising. Brash, certainly, but not unjustified. At least two of his peers (Lleyton Hewitt and Andy Murray) have also used the hashtag in conveying respect.
Two grand slam quarter finals in the last 12 months, including an iconoclastic defeat of Nadal at Wimbledon, have helped to propel Kyrgios to a career-high ranking of 34 this week. The immediate outlook for Kyrgios is framed through an injury sustained at the Indian Wells Masters 1000 event where, despite this, he almost beat Grigor Dimitrov. But injury aside, the Kyrgios story contains only potential, even if naturally, aged 19, aspects of his game need work.
What has only more recently become clear though is the effect Kyrgios’s rise has had on Bernard Tomic, now 22 years old. On a scale of 1 to 10, Bernie’s early career has been measured in 1s and 10s: a victory over Djokovic; a fourth round appearance at the Australian Open; accusations from John McEnroe of tanking at the US Open; a publicised strip club visit; the quickest ever ATP-level defeat; and off-court controversy involving his coach (his father John Tomic) and then hitting partner Thomas Drouet.
However, a career that seemed vulnerable to derailment just 12 months ago, now appears back on track; and what was previously cast as a lack of application appears more logically as a kid having to mature under an unforgiving media spotlight. If Kyrgios’s rise gave Tomic both the motivation and cover from the media he needed, it is his, tennis’s and Australia’s gain. Indeed, quietly, Tomic became Australian number one in March this year following two wins in the Davis Cup World Group and his current ranking of 27 equals his high achieved in June 2012. His record this year has been one of consistently making tournament quarter finals. If it is unfair to say that Bernie has traded 1s and 10s for 3s and 7s (he has, after all, beaten Ferrer this year), the absence of 1s was the important bit.
The story does not end there. To an insurgent Kyrgios and a resurgent Tomic, can be added James Duckworth (ranked 82) and Thanasi Kokkinakis (ranked 107) who are both 23 or younger and who also recorded career-high rankings this week. Add in Marinko Matosevic (ranked 78) and Sam Groth (93) and you have a vastly transformed picture of Australian men’s tennis. If Hewitt once bore Australian men’s tennis interest as Atlas, Team Australia now looks able to share that weight (the pressure, the expectation) in ways it has not done so for over 10 years.
The chart below shows the average ranking of Australia’s top 5 ranked men since 1973. The era of Rosewall, Newcombe, Laver, Emerson, Roche et al can be seen furthest left; as can the lack of support for Rafter and Hewitt after about 2003. Since 2010, however, Australian men’s tennis has grown and is as broadly based as the Hewitt-Rafter-Philippoussis era.
What started out with a measure of notoriety as #NKrising is now most certainly #AUSrising.