Aussie star Nick Kyrgios has fought back tears while paying an emotional tribute to NBA legend Kobe Bryant prior to his fourth-round Australian Open clash with Rafael Nadal.
Kyrgios’ clash with Nadal was overshadowed on Monday morning by the tragic deaths of Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter Gianna, who were among nine deceased in a helicopter crash earlier in California today.
The 24-year-old is an avid basketball fan, and has been often seen practicing in various NBA jerseys during this year’s Australian Open.
The Aussie is a well known Boston Celtics fan but also has tremendous respect for Bryant who was a five-time NBA champion and former league MVP.
As Kyrgios walked out onto the Rod Laver Arena, he wore the iconic gold Lakers jersey sporting a No.8, the number Bryant wore during his first three NBA titles between 2000 and 2002.
“Kobe Bryant, the impact that has emotionally on the players,” John McEnroe told Nine before the match.
“I know when my late great buddy Vitas Gerulaitis passed away, that next day I played an exhibition, totally numb like I do now and I felt like I couldn’t miss.
“There’s other times where maybe you don’t give the effort because you put in perspective, ‘what difference does a tennis match make’?
“It’s going to be interesting to see how he comes out.”
Fellow American great Jim Courier also added that Bryant’s tragic loss could “cut one of two ways” for Kyrgios.
“I think if he’s wearing the jersey that’s a good sign,” he said.
“That means he’s fired up and wants to perform for Kobe because right now the whole world is in mourning now for Kobe’s family and their loss, for Nick it’s about using that as inspiration.”