Aussie bad boy Nick Kyrgios may hold the ATP Cup fate of longtime critic Lleyton Hewitt in his hands as the new team event gets ready to challenge the Davis Cup for men’s tennis bragging rights.
As de facto Aussie team leader by virtue of his top national ranking (27th), the unpredictable Kyrgios is empowered under the rules of the 24-nation, $14 million competition set for January in three Australian cities, to select a team captain.
It is reported in local media that his choice will most certainly not be Hewitt, who serves as national Davis Cup skipper.
The pair have bad blood going back years, with straight-arrow Hewitt, who won a pair of Grand Slam titles, critical of the serial misbehavior and yobbish antics of Kyrgios.
For that reason alone, the 38-year-old Hewitt could find himself without an official position – if Kyrgios has anything to say about it – in the new competition which will dominate the run-up to the Australian Open in four months.
The Australian team will be comprised of Kyrgios and No. 2 Alex de Minaur, with other players to be named later. Ties will comprise a pair of singles rubbers and a doubles match.
Hewitt, a longtime Davis stalwart as a player and captain, could be torn in his loyalties to the controversial re-write of the Davis format by Spanish organisers and a well-funded Australian-led challenge to more than a century of Davis continuity by the ATP backed by partner Tennis Australia.
“It is a big change, I know, for the public to see but as it happens, I think it is going to be great for the sport,” Hewitt said at this week’s ATP Cup draw in Sydney.
“This is another talking point. I know Alex and Nick have been talking about this for months now, about how they want to challenge for this and it would mean a lot for them to do it and to play well in their country.”
Hewitt has been critical of iconoclastic, one-off Kyrgios, calling out the player’s lack of a steady work ethic as well as his frequent run-ins with chair umpires and other authority figures in the sport.
Kyrgios is current being probed by the ATP after an on-court explosion last month in Cincinnati which netted him total fines of more than $100,000.
He could conceivably be suspended for a period from ATP competition; but that decision will be tempered by his powerful potential to being in fans to stadiums.
Hewitt has made no secret of his desire to get involved in the ATP Cup, perhaps hedging his bets with the new Davis Cup an unknown entity until it goes through its debut paces in late November in Madrid.
The ATP quickly brought the Cup to life in what was surely a direct response to the condensation and downgrade of Davis play into just one week from the classic, old-school four-times-per-year system which had been in places for decades.