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The Indian Basketball connection that helped Nick Kyrgios reach Wimbledon final

The Indian Basketball connection that helped Nick Kyrgios reach Wimbledon final

“Literally a month and a half ago, I was actually playing basketball with some boys back home and I said to one of them, ‘I think I’m going to have some fun and maybe win Wimbledon’,” said Nick Kyrgios after losing to Novak Djokovic in the Wimbledon Final on Sunday. “Then I’m here as a finalist. I didn’t hit for more than an hour a day.”

As amazing as his ride has been since then, there is an Indian hand in that journey. 

Mahesh Padmanabhan, the Indian-origin basketball player and now trainer from Australia, oversees the basketball games that Kyrgios referred to. Kyrgios plays with a band of  college and semi-professional basketball players.

For a while now, by his own admission, Kyrgios has used the game of basketball as his fun, preparation, fitness, “meditation”, and for some self-discipline. 

“He was coming for people’s necks,” Padmanabhan told Sydney Morning Herald. “He wouldn’t really hold back. That’s the culture we’ve developed here when we come play. The concern for me was ‘Oh, it’s Nick Kyrgios the tennis player with 10 million followers’. A few people were starstruck at the start and didn’t really believe he was coming.

“But it wears off quickly and that’s because of how he is. He’s not precious, he doesn’t want special treatment. He actually hates that. He has more pride in himself to be respected as a basketball player that can be good enough to be in that environment. He doesn’t want special treatment to run around and just have fun. He wants to beat them.”

The day his Wimbledon opponent Tsitsipas accused him of being a “bully”, Kyrgios had again harked back to his basketball sessions in Australia. 

“When I’m back home and you see me every day and who I’m competing with on the basketball court, these guys are dogs. The people that I’m playing at Wimbledon … He’s (Tsitsipas) just soft. To come in here and say I bullied him, that’s just soft. We’re not cut from the same cloth. I go up against guys who are true competitors.”

One of the players is Chol Adup, who plays in the second-tier league of Australian Basketball.  “Kyrgios is actually pretty good at basketball. Me and Nick we fight all the time, man. What Nick is seeing from other people at Wimbledon is nothing compared to KGV, man. If people see what we do on campus, they would be shocked. Nick is not the bully. I’m the bully,” Adup told The Age. “When Nick’s around us bro, the amount of stuff we say to him … we go hard at him. We trash talk him. We don’t sit back because he’s the big dog. When he’s there he’s not the big dog because we go at each other.”How does a fierce session everyday of Basketball help a tennis player? Kyrgios explained it to the Australian newspaper. 

“Basketball is my meditation but at the same time it’s good fitness as well. People don’t realise that defensive slides and defensive movements of basketball are almost identical to the way people move on a tennis court.”

The evening after the greatest tournament of his life, Kyrgios talked about how he didn’t even have a drop of beer during the two weeks at the tournament. Kyrgios had abused drugs and alcohol so much at one point in his life that he would come to games, “hungover”. 

“I feel like I’ve committed a fair bit these two weeks. What more can I do, to be honest? I’ve stayed in most of the time,” he said. I’ve tried to just get a good sleep, eat well. Not even have a beer here or there. I’ve committed. I’ve committed everything I can commit these two weeks and I just came up short. I was taught that’s all right – even though it sucks. Of course it sucks.”