Tennis

Kyrgios shows his softer side with Stoneman Douglas tennis team

Tennis player Nick Kyrgios with tennis players from Marjory Stoneman Douglas HS at the Miami Open on Key Biscayne, Florida, March 25, 2018.
Tennis player Nick Kyrgios with tennis players from Marjory Stoneman Douglas HS at the Miami Open on Key Biscayne, Florida, March 25, 2018. ctrainor@miamiherald.com

Nick Kyrgios, the fiery Australian known to break rackets on the court, went out of his way this weekend to help mend the broken hearts of tennis players from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

On Sunday afternoon, unbeknownst to most of the thousands of fans roaming around the Miami Open, Kyrgios was on Practice Court 3, hitting balls with nine members of MSD’s boys’ and girls’ tennis teams. He invited them to train with him when he met them before and after his match Saturday night.

He joked around with them, let them try to return his serve and challenged three MSD players to try to win a point off him. He said if any of the three could win a point, he’d give them a gift from his bag. Two girls did, and he gave them bright yellow compression sleeves.

“It was incredible to practice with him,” Douglas freshman Amanda Aponte said. “He hits it way harder than anyone I’ve ever played. It’s amazing how fast and consistent he hits it. It was so nice of him to spend time with us and let us hit with him.”

There was also a surprise guest at the practice — Boston Celtics forward Gordon Hayward, who is injured and visiting in Miami. Kyrgios loves basketball, has been a diehard Celtics fan since he was a kid and said he was “a bit starstruck” when Hayward showed up.

Kyrgios was one of a few dozen Miami Open players who linked arms with MSD players during an emotional ceremony on Stadium Court on Saturday night. He spent time with each of the high school players before his win over Dusan Lajovic, and then after the match, he went upstairs and surprised them in the lounge where they were seated.

He took questions from the players and chatted with them about tennis. When they asked Kyrgios what was the toughest thing he ever dealt with, he said the death of his grandmother.

Kyrgios has been labeled a “bad boy” during his career, but he showed a softer side in his interactions with the survivors of the Feb. 14 massacre that took the lives of 17 students and teachers at Stoneman Douglas High. He called Nike to have the entire team outfitted in new clothes and sneakers. And he ordered Beats headsets for them.

He shrugged off the gestures, saying he was more than happy to help.

“I don’t think I’ve done anything that special, just to bring them out here to a training session, to give them the opportunity to meet professionals and make their day, that’s easy for me,” Kyrgios said. “It made the training session more fun for me and, obviously, it’s a tough time for them, so if they can get out here and get their minds on something else, it’s pretty important.”

Kyrgios has a soft spot in his heart for children. He has a charity called NK Foundation which recently broke ground on a youth sports center in Dandedong, a low-income neighborhood outside Melbourne, Australia. The facility will include tennis courts, basketball courts, soccer fields, a game room and dorms for underprivileged youth.

Watching Sunday’s practice with a big smile was Kyrgios’ mother, Norleila, who said her son is sometimes misunderstood by fans and media.

“The reason his bag is so heavy is that he fills it with stuff to give away to fans and kids,” Norlaila said. “When he started juniors, I thought, ‘We’ll collect those tournament towels.’ We haven’t got one ATP Tour towel, not one, he has given them all away. He grabs and throws stuff. Spending time with kids is what he loves most, and I love watching it.”

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