Nick Kyrgios: Uplifting week for controversial Aussie

    Story highlights

    • Nick Kyrgios wins Tokyo crown
    • Aussie still in contention to make year-end ATP finals
    • Attitude and on-court behavior questioned in past

    (CNN)Given his past, no one will be saying that Nick Kyrgios' controversial ways are long gone but the young Australian certainly had an uplifting week at the Japan Open. Indeed, for those who are pulling for Kyrgios to make the most of his immense ability, the signs were promising.

    Kyrgios insists he likes basketball more than tennis -- he is a passionate Boston Celtics fan -- and said he plans to retire at the age of 27 yet his showing in Tokyo may have, too, upped his appetite on the tennis court.
      Kyrgios won the third and biggest title of his career Sunday when he dispatched Belgium's David Goffin 4-6 6-3 7-5, hammering 25 aces and saving 11 of the 12 break points he faced.
      He also won the rally of the tournament in the semifinals against tennis' ultimate showman Gael Monfils and endeared himself to the locals when he threw a bottle of water into the stands to help a supporter in distress.
      The 21-year-old reached a new career high in the rankings, 14th, and boosted his chances of appearing at the year-end championships for the first time. He rose to 12th, four places and about 800 points behind 23-year-old Austrian Dominic Thiem who holds down the final spot.
      His 38 wins in 2016 have long surpassed last year's tally of 24.

      'Long journey'

      Craig Tiley, the CEO of Tennis Australia, likely summed up what many are thinking when he praised Kyrgios but also seemed to adopt a wait-and-see approach.
      "It's a long journey, it's a long-term journey when it comes to Nick," Tiley was quoted as saying by Reuters at the media launch of the Australian Open, tennis' next grand slam that starts in January.
      "But he's certainly, we've felt, more recently turned the corner. His performances this past week have been tremendous in winning his third professional title.
      "And that's fairly remarkable. There's a lot of pressure on him. We do what we can. We have a long-term view of it."
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      Meanwhile Lleyton Hewitt, the former No. 1 and now Kyrgios' Davis Cup captain, upped the ante, urging the player -- who has reached a couple of quarterfinals in his still young career -- to replicate his recent promising performances at ATP events at the four majors.
      "At the moment he's showing that he's good enough to make the quarterfinals at the grand slams, but he's got to take that next step now and really push to towards the semis and then the finals," Hewitt was quoted as saying by AAP.
      "But you're going to have to beat a few good players along the way, you're going to have to be able to bounce back after five-set matches physically and mentally, and that's something that he's getting better at."
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      Arguably that physical and mental resilience has been an issue for Kyrgios, who didn't make a grand slam quarterfinal this year and drew criticism from seven-time grand slam champion turned tennis analyst John McEnroe following his defeats at Wimbledon to Andy Murray and at the US Open to Illya Marchenko.
      Kyrgios fell to eventual champion Murray -- the one member of the "Big Four" he is friendliest with -- in the fourth round at SW16 in 1:43, which led the American to blast: "He doesn't know what it takes to be a top-10 professional to win grand slams.
      "I'm hoping he sees the writing on the wall before this becomes chronic, irreparable, because to me it's getting to that point. He's got a lot of thinking to do, a lot of work to do."
      And after a hip injury led to Kyrgios retiring against the unheralded Marchenko at Flushing Meadows in the third round, McEnroe uttered: "Nick Kyrgios, if you don't want to be a professional tennis player, do something else," McEnroe said. "He's hurt because he's not training enough."
      Based on his matches in Tokyo, McEnroe might be more optimistic when it comes to Kyrgios' future.