Nick Kyrgios returns to action for the first time since the Australian Open on Tuesday as he takes in American, Tommy Paul in the first round of the Delray Beach Open.
Kyrgios vs Paul is live from Delray Beach on Tuesday, 18 February from 8:00pm local time/ 1:00am GMT (on Wednesday)
Kyrgios reached the fourth round in his home Slam in January, beating Lorenzo Sonego, Gilles Simon and Karen Khachanov before falling to Rafael Nadal in four sets.
It marked the end of a good Australian summer for Kyrgios, who had also sparkled at the ATP Cup. Along with Alex De Minaur, Kyrgios spearheaded Australia’s march to the semi-finals, scoring singles victories over Jan-Lennard Struff, Stefanos Tsitsipas and Cameron Norrie, before falling to Roberto Bautista-Agut, as the Aussies’ run was terminated by Spain in the semi-finals.
Kyrgios remains one of the most divisive characters in the sport, but he won many hearts with his contribution towards helping victims of the devastating Australian bushfires. In fact, it was Kyrgios that jolted the rest of the tennis community into action when he offered to donate 100 Australian Dollars for every ace he served during the Australian summer. His desire to help translated to good performances on the tennis courts- can the Aussie keep up that form through the rest of the season?
Kyrgios was at his enigmatic best last year, producing some of his best tennis to win a couple of ATP 500 titles in Acapulco and Washington, beating a trio of top-ten players- Rafael Nadal, John Isner and Alexander Zverev- along with Stan Wawrinka in Acapulco, and taking down Stefanos Tsitsipas and Daniil Medvedev in Washington. Those two tournaments were timely reminders of just how good the Aussie can be when he’s on song, but unfortunately, those periods were again very few and far between last season. Outside Acapulco and Washington, he didn’t make a single quarter final, and didn’t play again after Zhuhai in September due to injury.
Kyrgios dipped as low as 72nd in February last year, and was out of the top-50 in July, but he dragged himself up to 30th by the end of the season, and is now ranked 21st heading into Delray Beach, having briefly returned to the top-20 at the end of the Australian Open. He was scheduled to compete at last week’s New York Open, but pulled out due to injury. The Aussie is ready to go again in Delray Beach, where he is top seed at a tour-level event for the first time.
Kyrgios was beaten by eventual champion, Radu Albot in the Round of 16 last season, can he make further progress this year?
“Delray is somewhere I feel extremely comfortable,” the Australian said ahead of the tournament. “I always have one of my favorite weeks of the year—obviously the basketball court is a big part of it.”
“I’m always confident… I’ve pretty much beaten every player on the tour and I’ve done it my way, so confidence I don’t really lack.”
The top seed starts his campaign against Tommy Paul on Tuesday.
22-year-old Paul has made an encouraging start to the season, opening 2020 with a 5-3 run in main draw matches. Having come through the qualifying rounds, the American reached the maiden ATP semi-final in his first tournament of the year, beating seasoned campaigners, Aljaz Bedene, Pablo Cuevas and Albert Ramos-Vinolas before falling to South Africa’s Lloyd Harris in the last four.
He followed that up with a third round run at the Australian Open, taking out Leonardo Mayer and former world No. 3, Grigor Dimitrov (in five sets) before losing to Marton Fucsovics. The American had never won a Grand Slam match before the 2020 Australian Open. He suffered a first round defeat to Miomir Kecmanovic in New York last week, and will aim to get back to winning ways very quickly at Delray Beach.
Paul is playing with a career-high ranking of 70th, following his good start to the year. Up until the start of this season, he did most of his work on the Challenger tour, claiming three Challenger titles last year on his way to breaking into the top-100 for the first time. He will now aim for an extended run on the main tour, as he attempts to continue his climb up the rankings.
Paul does have the ability to make things awkward for Kyrgios when they meet for the first time on Tuesday, especially if the top seed wanders off his game. However, if Kyrgios maintains the focus and intensity he showed in Australia, he possesses enough tools in the box, his serve being the obvious weapon, to take down the American without much fuss.