AUSTRALIAN Davis Cup captain Lleyton Hewitt has come out swinging in defence of Nick Kyrgios, putting the unpredictable star's latest on-court meltdown down to the intense pressure of trying to beat the world No.1.
Kyrgios once again lost his head at an umpire's call in the final of the China Open, with the brain snap opening the door for Rafael Nadal to romp home to victory 6-2 6-1 in Beijing.
However, Hewitt says Kyrgios deserves credit for making significant improvements in his behaviour over recent months and blamed the explosive outburst at the umpire as an understandable cost of the expectations that come going head to head with Nadal in a big final.
Hewitt, who has recently tried to turn fortunes around for troubled Australian stablemate Bernard Tomic with a series of heart-heart chats, praised Kyrgios as the new benchmark for the Davis Cup team.
"It's still a work in progress for him and dealing with different situations that happen on the tour. I think he's been a lot better in that (behaviour) though, especially in the last year or so. He's made big strides," said Hewitt at a partnership announcement with Mastercard in Sydney yesterday.
"The pressure and expectation of playing Rafa in a final as well is not easy. He was up for it at the start of the match ... and wasn't able to get that early break.
"Once you give Rafa that opportunity it's hard to chase him down.
"It's been a huge week for him though. To beat the calibre of players that he beat ... he served unbelievably.
"You look at the scoreline (against Nadal) and it looks pretty lopsided ... but it was a lot closer match than that. Rafa was out for a bit of revenge after Nick beat him comfortably in Cincinnati."
Hewitt said Kyrgios had thrown down the gauntlet to Australia's first-up Davis Cup opponents Germany next year by taking care of the brothers Alexander and Mischa Zverev in China.
Thanasi Kokkinakis and Tomic are being urged by Hewitt to follow Kyrgios' lead.
"He beat both Zverev brothers, so for me that gave me a lot of confidence considering we play Germany in the first round of the Davis Cup," he said.
"The way he handled Alexander Zverev, who is the young German gun in the semi-final ... to beat him in straight sets (is a massive effort).
"Nick's our standout No. 1 player at the moment and then we've go ta group of guys that have an opportunity to play that second singles spot.
"For Thanasi it depends on his body and really getting match tough again. He's got the potential and the fire power, but (he has to) go out there and be able to back-up five-set matches over three days."
Hewitt said he'd had words with troubled soul, Tomic.
"He's still got a few tournaments to go in Asia and finishing off in Europe," he said.
"He just hasn't played enough this year and that cycle of trying to get out fo that rut ... isn't easy to do.
"I've had a few chats with him, so have people at Tennis Australia. I get along really well with Bernie. I really tried to help him out a lot last year. It's been disappointing. We'd love to see him back there because he's a quality top-20 player easily, and his goal should be to get in the top 10."
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