MELBOURNE – Australian maverick Nick Kyrgios is ready to win over his doubters and can become an 'international sporting superstar' according to former world number one Boris Becker.
No home player has won the Australian men's title since Mark Edmondson in 1976 but hopes are soaring that Kyrgios could end that long wait after his spectacular start to the year.
The 22-year-old, ranked 17th in the world, won the Brisbane title in the build-up to his home slam and Becker says the man who divides opinion like no other in Australia is finally beginning to look like the real deal.
"There has never been a question mark over his talent but there was a question mark about his discipline," Becker, commentating for Eurosport, told Reuters.
"But he's getting it together now. It would be wonderful to see him get to the quarters or semi-finals. He has a huge following and is slowly getting it together. It's great. I am a huge fan of Nick."
Kyrgios's antics and unruly behaviour have rightly attracted scorn.
He was accused of 'tanking' a match against Richard Gasquet at Wimbledon in 2015 and was booed by his own fans last year when he suffered a meltdown to lose to Andreas Seppi in five sets in the second round at Melbourne.
He has also said that some days he does not even like playing tennis, although Becker says that could be a smokescreen for dealing with the inevitable spotlight that came his way after he stunned Rafael Nadal at Wimbledon in 2014.
"He has a very interesting personality and doesn't make it easy for himself at times," the German said. "But he must love tennis otherwise he couldn't do the things he's doing.
"He's not as clean cut as some Australians would like to see. But he could be an international superstar in sport, with his multi-ethnic background, his style, the ear rings.
"He is very much the guy all 22-year-olds want to be. I just hope he concentrates a little more on his tennis because it would be wonderful for the sport."
Kyrgios plays Brazil's Rogerio Dutra Silva in the first round but faces a tough path to make a deep run.
French former runner-up Jo-Wilfried Tsonga could be waiting in round three with world number three Grigor Dimitrov, who he beat on the way to the Brisbane title, a possible opponent in the last 16.
Three-times Australian Open winner Mats Wilander believes Kyrgios has shown a huge improvement in his attitude but has concerns over his durability after a spate of hip niggles.
"I think he seems to be mentally in the right place and he showed that in Brisbane," the Swede told Reuters. "Is he ready physically to play seven matches in two weeks? I'm not 100 percent sure."