Once shunned by the Australian sporting public Nick Kyrgios - swamped by fans after an Australian Open training session - is now their favourite son. Picture: Lukas Coch/AAP
Once shunned by the Australian sporting public Nick Kyrgios - swamped by fans after an Australian Open training session - is now their favourite son. Picture: Lukas Coch/AAP

Can’t help liking the new model Nick Kyrgios

Okay, so maybe it's not a mancrush of Millmania proportion, but are we finally starting to "get" Nick Kyrgios?

More to the point, is he starting to get us?

Seems it wasn't that long ago that the majority of Australians couldn't so much as mention the name Kyrgios without expectorating.

Dawn Fraser even suggested he should "go back to where his parents came from".

Now he's the unofficial people's choice for Australian of the Year.

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Nick Kyrgios fans show the love on day two of the Australian Open. Picture: Dave Hunt/ AAP
Nick Kyrgios fans show the love on day two of the Australian Open. Picture: Dave Hunt/ AAP

Funny what a little bit of humility - and humanity - can do for the image.

Of course it doesn't hurt when the country's highest-ranked player drops out of the Australian Open and you're suddenly the Great Local Hope.

After all, if there's anything Australians love it's a winner.

I'll always remember a letter to the editor before an Aussie Open back in the days when Mark Philippoussis was the public's favourite whipping boy.

"Just wondering if you could remind me," it said. "What round does Mark Philippoussis have to get to before we like him again?"

"The Poo" has come and gone but the Aussie public's love of a winner is as strong as ever.

Two weeks ago I covered the Barty International … sorry, Brisbane International, and when 'Our Ash' was eliminated in her first match it was like the air had been sucked out of the joint.

Happily for all concerned she found her feet in Adelaide and is currently creating a frenzy of nationalistic bonhomie in Melbourne not seen since the glory days of Pat Rafter, and Kyrgios isn't far behind.

The new-look Nick Kyrgios signs autographs after winning his first round match against Lorenzo Sonego of Italy. Picture: Michael Dodge/AAP
The new-look Nick Kyrgios signs autographs after winning his first round match against Lorenzo Sonego of Italy. Picture: Michael Dodge/AAP

Not that it's just his on-court performances that have taken him from Australia's most unpopular sporting export to favoured son seemingly overnight.

Who would have thought that Nick Kyrgios would be our first high-profile athlete to put his money where his mouth is in support of those devastated by the recent bushfires?

Surely not selfish, pampered, entitled Kyrgios. The one who dragged our nation's image through the dirt from Shanghai to Cincinnati, had his mental health questioned by Martina Navratilova amongst others and was labelled "tortured" by no-less an expert than John McEnroe?

It was indeed, and he couldn't even be accused of jumping on the bandwagon. He was the one driving it.

 

Nick Kyrgios is playing with a new perspective. Picture: AP/Andy Wong
Nick Kyrgios is playing with a new perspective. Picture: AP/Andy Wong

 

Then, to sweeten the pot, he inspires Australia to a spectacular run through the ATP Cup, shows genuine compassion after his countryman Alex de Minaur is forced out of the Open and is the perfect gentleman in sticking up for mixed-doubles partner Amanda Anisimova when she is upset by an insensitive reporter.

If fact, it seems as if in a matter of weeks the enfant terrible of Australian tennis has gone from childish brat to voice of reason.

Oh sure, he's still more than happy to let journalists know they have just asked "the most stupid question I've ever heard", but that's just fun - and makes for a good story.

So what's happened? Where has it all gone right?

 

John McEnroe once feared for the “tortured” Nick Kyrgios. Now they’re mates. Picture: Mark Stewart
John McEnroe once feared for the “tortured” Nick Kyrgios. Now they’re mates. Picture: Mark Stewart

Has, as he told his new friend McEnroe, the cruel reality of the bushfires given him a new perspective on life; made him realise there are more important things to be concerned about than a poor line call?

Or has he just grown up, like any number of precious sporting brats (McEnroe included) before him?

Either way, I don't know about you, but I'm liking this new Nick Kyrgios. Let's hope he sticks around for a while.