'Brand Kyrgios' on the rise, but Australian must tread carefully
MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Teenager Nick Kyrgios's ranking is not the only thing that will soar after his electrifying run at Wimbledon. The Australian's brand has also shot into the stratosphere, according to marketing experts.
An exhausted Kyrgios bowed out of Wimbledon with a four-set loss to big-serving Canadian Milos Raonic on Wednesday, with the 226,000 pounds ($379,500) quarter-finalist's check by far the biggest pay-day of his fledgling career.
The real pay-off is yet to come for the rangy 19-year-old, who started the tournament ranked at 144th then announced himself to the world with a stunning fourth-round upset of world number one Rafa Nadal on center court.
Kyrgios is already signed to racquet manufacturer Yonex and apparel giant Nike but his image as a confident, Tweet-happy athlete blessed with extraordinary talent will have huge appeal for companies seeking to tap into lucrative youth markets.
"From what I gather he's a level-headed young man and really committed to his family which will help boost his appeal further," Jack Lamacraft, a director at M&C Saatchi's Sydney office, said in a statement emailed to Reuters.
"He's also really active on social media which is another big plus for brands when considering the appeal of an athlete."
The success of Kyrgios, projected to crack the top 70 when the new rankings are released next week, has thrilled Australia.
The former tennis super-power has waited for a new men's talent to take the mantle from the aging Lleyton Hewitt, who won the last of his two grand slam titles at Wimbledon in 2002.
Another upstart who took the tennis world by storm, former world number one Hewitt took his first grand slam title as a hotheaded 20-year-old by thrashing American great Pete Sampras in straight sets in the final of the 2001 U.S. Open.
A big server with a crunching forehand, Kyrgios has prompted comparisons with 14-times grand slam champion Sampras, who also burst onto the scene as a teenager and claimed the U.S. Open when barely 19.
ON THE RADAR
Being mentioned in the same sentence as the likes of Sampras and Boris Becker is a long way from where Kyrgios found himself before the Nadal encounter, Sean Pickwell, managing director of Sydney-based boutique agency Waterfront, told Reuters.
"He's just jumped massively from being someone who was almost barely on the radar," Pickwell said after the four-set win over Spaniard Nadal.
"The value of his brand has probably quadrupled.
"He's got all the right attributes. He's a good kid. He doesn't come across as arrogant. I think potentially he could command a lot more money."
Kyrgios's commercial appeal also has an alluring geographical reach, as the son of a Greek-born father and mother of Malaysian heritage.
"This might well open up some lucrative commercial opportunities for him in Asia as well," said Lamacraft.
"Tennis is huge in the region with over 200 million tennis fans living there (42 percent of the global fan base)."
Unlike many wide-eyed talents facing their childhood heroes on the professional courts for the first time, Kyrgios's self-belief never appeared in doubt at Wimbledon.
Strutting onto center court with hip-hop music pumped into his ears through big, pink headphones, Kyrgios duped Nadal with an outrageous between-the-legs winner during their match and impressed tennis writers with his self-deprecating wit during media conferences.
How Kyrgios and his management team handle his career both on and off the court over the next year will be under a lot of scrutiny, David Drysdale, Hewitt's long-time manager, told Reuters.
Change is already in the air, with Australian media reporting he will part ways with coach Simon Rea and train in Canberra to be closer to his family rather than continue his development in Melbourne.
Kyrgios's manager John Morris, from British agency Global Tennis Connections, has been vocal about his client's commercial appeal, claiming he can aspire to the same sponsorship heights as Nadal and Swiss great Roger Federer.
"I don't think that's the way to go," said Drysdale. "I think they can hold back on that.
"If they go on a short-term cash grab, that's the probably the worst way they can go.
"It's really what Nick does in 12 months' time, when he goes back to Wimbledon and how he backs it up.
"Once other players get used to his style will be the real test and how he handles the fact that he's not a surprise packet."
Australia has previously been tantalized by the exploits of a teenager who lit up Wimbledon.
Bernard Tomic marched to the 2011 quarter-finals at the age of 18, confidently declaring he would win grand slams, but has never matched the run at the majors since.
Once touted a potential top-10 player, Tomic peaked at 27 two years ago and now languishes at 86th.
His marketability has also been repeatedly damaged by a string of controversies, from being accused of 'tanking' - or not trying hard - in matches, to being kicked off Australia's Davis Cup team for attitude problems.
Weary of Tomic's promise outstripping his achievement, Australia has gratefully latched onto Kyrgios as "the next big thing".
Keeping a level head amid the hype may be a bigger test for him than facing 'Big Four' opponents across the net.
"It comes down to personality more than anything else," said Drysdale. "We can't put too much pressure on him either. We've got to give him time to grow both as a person and a player."
(Editing by Greg Stutchbury)