Nick Kyrgios has managed to overcome that most Australian of injuries – a spider bite to the foot – to begin his 2019 campaign with a three-set victory over American Ryan Harrison at the Brisbane International.
In a replay of last year's final, defending champion Kyrgios unleashed 44 aces to progress to the second round with a 7-6, 5-7, 7-6 victory over two hours and eight minutes on Pat Rafter Arena.
The world number 35 spent part of the off-season in hospital recovering from a spider bite and the rest of the time staying as far away from a tennis court as possible. Earlier in the week, he suggested he might come up with 30 unforced errors and may just take the year off if he jagged the Australian Open title.
He conceded he was rusty, particularly from the baseline, but hardly looked like a player that wasn't interested in hanging around for the rest of the week. In a tense, exceedingly tight affair, Kyrgios kept his calm and rode his elite serve towards a second round meeting with Frenchman Jeremy Chardy.
"Just considering how much I hit during the off season and to still get through is pretty impressive. I mean, my serve is always something that I know that I can go back on, and today it came through again," Kyrgios said.
"I knew I wasn't going to play great, but obviously, again, my serve got through. Hopefully my level of tennis improves a little bit though."
If Kyrgios sought to play down expectations ahead of defending the title he won here last year, then the rise of fellow Australians has been able to help his cause. For the first time in a while, Kyrgios is no longer the only storyline worth writing about in the Australian men's draw.
The rise and rise of Alex De Minaur, who enters the home summer as Australia's highest ranked male player, has not only pleased Kyrgios as a friend but served to shift some of the spotlight – and in turn, pressure – to another athlete.
John Millman's heroics against Roger Federer at the US Open was one of the best feel-good stories of 2018. He's a hometown hero in his native Brisbane and already booked his spot in the second round with victory on the opening night.
All three are ranked in the 30s (De Minaur 31, Kyrgios 35 and Millman 38) and while Kyrgios has the added expectation of being the defending champion, all three have been expected to fire in front of their home fans.
Kyrgios has welcomed the company closer to the top of the ATP charts but still feels he's the main attraction over coming weeks.
"I mean, I don't know if the spotlight is off of me. I was practicing the other day, I had 13 cameras on my court; had a spider bite, that seemed to be the biggest story over the Aussie summer," said Kyrgios, who perhaps hasn't flicked through to the cricket pages.
"So let's don't act as if attention is not on me. But, yeah, obviously it does help having guys like that winning matches. I don't know if the spotlight has shifted at all."
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