LONDON - Nick Kyrgios hailed Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal as "gods" on Thursday but insisted tennis also desperately needs his devil-may-care non-conformity.
The controversial Australian crowd-pleaser reached the Wimbledon third round by brushing aside Italy's Gianluca Mager 7-6 (9/7), 6-4, 6-4 to set up a clash with Canada's Felix Auger-Aliassime.
In between, he absorbed coaching tips from random fans while discussing the merits of Tottenham Hotspur.
"Not everyone can be a Federer or Djokovic or Nadal. These are, like, once-in-a-decade athletes that inspire millions of people. Like, they're just gods. I see them as that, too," said the 26-year-old Kyrgios.
"But you have to have some people, I believe, that are relatable, that people can bring other fans to watch, like people that are just normal.
"I feel like I'm one of those people. I'm Nick Kyrgios. I know who I am."
Being Nick Kyrgios is an exhausting existence which unites and divides fans, other players and officials.
Nadal and Djokovic have accused him of lacking respect for the sport and its traditions.
Kyrgios, in turn, once described Nadal as "super salty" and Djokovic as "a tool" for aspects of his behaviour during the Covid-19 pandemic.
When a brash, teenage Kyrgios announced his arrival in the sport by stunning Nadal at Wimbledon in 2014, he was seen as the sport's next enduring star.
He has definitely been headline news but not always for the right reasons in a career littered with fines and suspensions.
But he is box office for the sport.
"They know it's a bit of a show. They just want entertainment at the end of the day," said Kyrgios after his afternoon on a packed Court 3.
"Like a couple screaming out asking normal questions about Tottenham Hotspur. It's a bit odd.
"It's crazy out there. I have people in the front row literally coaching me, like literally telling me, That's all right, good ball, great return, it will work next time, good depth.
"I'm like, Dude, what is going on out here?"
Often described as one of the best players never to have won a Grand Slam, Kyrgios says he is happy with a career which has so far bought him six tour titles and almost $9 million in prize money.
The closest he has got to a Slam title is two runs to the quarter-finals - at Wimbledon in 2014 and the Australian Open in 2015.
"I'm okay with not winning Grand Slams. I know that's going to make a lot of people angry," he said.
"He should be doing this. But I shouldn't, though. It's not your life, it's mine. I'm okay with just enjoying myself, putting on a show."
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