The wait has now ticked over to 40 years – in both the men’s and women’s games – but hopes are growing that the n Open will once again feature a home-grown winner.
Not since well before the tournament moved to its plush new inner-city surrounds, now almost unrecognisable from the first tournament at Melbourne Park in 1988 – has an n lifted aloft either the men’s or women’s trophies.
Pat Cash went close against Mats Wilander 30 years ago and the feisty Lleyton Hewitt couldn’t quite complete a fairytale run to the 2005 title, eventually overpowered by Marat Safin.
But now optimism is growing that a more mature and level-headed Nick Kyrgios could be among the next tier of players on the tour to break the big five’s almost iron-like grip on the majors. Equally, Ashleigh Barty enjoyed an outstanding 2017 and as the 18th seed, features in a near Melbourne Cup field of grand slam contenders on the WTA Tour, especially with grand slam queen Serena Williams having a hiatus.
Two-time n Open champion John Newcombe believes Kyrgios’ participation in the Davis Cup under captain Hewitt, along with eye-catching results from other ns, could help the 22-year-old inflict “some real damage” at Melbourne Park.
“He seems to be maturing now. I think the Davis Cup, joining the Davis Cup, Lleyton has worked really hard there getting his trust,” Newcombe said. “I think he could be ready to do some real damage.”
Kyrgios won’t have Bernard Tomic to deflect attention this year but Newcombe says other ns, notably January’s giant-killer Alex de Minaur, will take some of the heat off the 2014 Wimbledon quarter-finalist.
“The good news for Kyrgios is that with the young ones coming up and [Thanasi] Kokkinakis is going to be on his way back, and now Alex de Minaur is playing great.
“You’ve got Jordan Thompson, and [John]Millman is a real trier. All that takes pressure off Kyrios. He’s not the Lone Ranger out there.”
On the back of his win in Brisbane and coupled with six-time winner Novak Djokovic and former champion Stan Wawrinka returning after long injury lay-offs, Kyrgios is considered among the top half dozen chances in Melbourne.
Bookmakers have Kyrgios behind outright favourite and defending champion Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Djokovic and Grigor Dimitrov. Kyrgios is considered a slightly better chance than German world No.4 Alexander Zverev and Belgian David Goffin.
Newcombe says Kyrgios’ maturity was on show last week in Brisbane.
“He stuck to his guns. There were a couple of times when he could have wandered away, but he didn’t. Yeah, I think he’s starting to mature quite nicely. When he gets a grip on the mental side of the game, he’s capable of beating anyone.
“I think it’s growing older and being around the Davis Cup squad, having everyone pulling together as a team is a great way to mature and feel like a lot of other guys there have got your back.”
Veteran tennis coach Brad Gilbert also says he wouldn’t be surprised to see “incredible talent” Kyrgios win the Open and go on to claim multiple grand slam titles if he stops doing “crazy things”.
“If you were to tell me in a couple of weeks that he had won the n Open it would not surprise me at all. He has an amazing gift and is an incredible talent, but he has to show it on a regular basis. You can have all the talent in the world, but you have to have the desire to go with it,” Gilbert said.
“Undoubtedly, I think he could be a multiple slam winner, but he has to want it enough.”
Newcombe also said it was pleasing to see Barty and Daria Gavrilova take some of the pressure off Sam Stosur, but he nominated 2016 winner and Sydney International champion Angelique Kerber as his top pick in the women’s draw.
“I’m really happy to see her getting her confidence back,” Newcombe said. “I always wondered last year how she’d handle the pressure ??? the expectations all being there.
“She said herself it was pretty tough for her. So it looks as though she’s over that hurdle now. It’s good to see.”
With John Thompson