The 2017 tennis year was tough for Nick Kyrgios. They're all tough out there on tour, especially when you're basically a great big homebody, as Canberra-born and bred Kyrgios is. But this year was especially testing for the 22-year-old world number 20.
There was a hip injury that prematurely ended his season. There was the death of his grandfather. And there were ongoing anger issues over his beloved grandmother, whose death he never grieved properly due to his hectic tennis schedule.
Amid all that, one calming voice resonated loudest inside Krygios' intermittently shaven head: the voice of Lleyton Hewitt.
There's an obvious irony there, because Hewitt was himself a hothead in his tennis youth. But at 36, he's already reached elder statesman status. When Lleyton talks, people now listen. And when he spoke to Kyrgios earlier this year in his role as Davis Cup captain, he got through to his young protégé in a way few have managed to do.
Lleyton's secret? In a word, inclusiveness. Making Kyrgios -- who grew up playing basketball where he relished the team environment -- feel part of a gang.
"Tennis can be a lonely sport. You're in a new country every other week with only a few familiar faces around you. It's nothing like being at home. I struggle with it."
But Lleyton took the loneliness out of it. He created a WhatsApp group for the Davis Cup players. Wherever they were in the world, playing disparate tournaments, they would feel part of something.
"We felt like we were all brothers," Kyrgios wrote.
In April, Australia played the U.S. in the Davis Cup quarter finals in Brisbane. Kyrgios was uncharacteristically nervous. He simply had to win his match against Sam Querrey, a player ranked a few spots higher on the ATP rankings.
The fact he was playing for the whole of Australia, not just for himself, weighed on Kyrgios. Cue a little Lleyton magic:
"Rusty brought everyone into a tight circle around me. He told us how proud he was of the team and the way we'd come together.
Whether I won or lost, they would always have my back. And if ever there was a period in the match where I was hurting or needed a lift, all I had to do was look at my teammates on the sidelines.
It changed the whole mood.
I ended up winning that match in straight sets. I remember sitting in the locker room afterwards drinking a beer, eating a pie, singing Aussie songs and thinking, 'It doesn't get any better than this.'"