Tennis bad boy Nick Kyrgios said on Thursday that underneath the temper tantrums and trash-talking is a big softie trying to escape.
The volatile Australian, fined recently for a sexual insult aimed at Stan Wawrinkas girlfriend while playing a match against the Swiss, launched a charm offensive after racing into the Japan Open quarter-finals.
“I’m very different off the court than I am on it,” insisted Kyrgios, who remains on course to face French Open champion Wawrinka in this weekend's Tokyo final in what would be a fiery encounter.
“On the court, obviously Im very intense and I show a lot of emotion. But off the court Im very laid back, I like to relax and chill out.
“I’m definitely not a scary person,” added the controversial 20-year-old, who was booed at Wimbledon earlier this year for appearing to tank a game against Frenchman Richard Gasquet after a dispute with the chair umpire.
”I feel as if Im a nice person. Definitely I feel Im maturing and learning to find that balance between having fun and playing well. When I do that is when I play my best tennis.”
It is unlikely Wawrinka will share that view after Kyrgios sparked a blazing row by claiming his friend and Davis Cup team mate Thanasi Kokkinakis was romantically involved with Wawrinkas partner, the Croatian player Donna Vekic.
Kyrgios was fined $10,000 and warned a repeat of the incident in Montreal two months ago – which triggered a locker room bust-up with Wawrinka – could result in a ban.
A furious Wawrinka, who retired hurt from the match, tweeted: “What was said I wouldn't say to my worst enemy. To stoop so low is not only unacceptable but also beyond belief.”
On-court microphones picked up Kyrgios walking to the net and saying: “Kokkinakis banged your girlfriend, sorry to tell you that, mate.”
It also prompted Australian swimming great Dawn Fraser to criticise Kyrgios, suggesting he could return to where his parents came from.
Kyrgios, who was born in Australia to a father born in Greece and mother born in Malaysia, hit back on social media, calling Fraser was a “blatant racist.” She later apologised.
After reaching the semi-finals in Kuala Lumpur last week, Kyrgios refused to entertain thoughts of a first career title following his pulverising 6-4, 6-2 win over Spain's Roberto Bautista Agut in Japan on Thursday.
”I thought I was close last week but Im not going to get too far ahead of myself,” he said.
“Obviously guys like Stan and Kei (Nishikori), guys who have been in grand slam finals are still there, so I feel like Im one of the underdogs.”