Lleyton Hewitt has taken aim at Nick Kyrgios over a lack of communication after Australia fell into an 0-2 hole at the United Cup after his withdrawal. Kyrgios was supposed to lead Australia's campaign at the new mixed-gender team event, but announced just 24 hours before the first match that he wouldn't be playing.
Kyrgios cited a need to fully recover from a niggling ankle injury that he suffered at a recent exhibition event in Dubai before the Australian Open kicks off on January 16. In his absence, Alex de Minaur and Zoe Hives both lost their singles rubbers on Thursday night as Great Britain took a 2-0 lead over Australia.
'EMBARRASSING': How Nick Kyrgios could learn from Aussie cricketers
Speaking after de Minaur's loss, Aussie captain Hewitt hit out at the way in which Kyrgios left his teammates in the dark about his withdrawal. Kyrgios hasn't played for the national team in a team event since 2019, continually making himself unavailable for the Davis Cup.
Hewitt said he only learned of Kyrgios' withdrawal at the same time as the rest of the team - about 10 minutes before a scheduled press conference on Wednesday. When he then tried to contact Kyrgios, Hewitt he didn't immediately receive a response.
"For the whole team, it was pretty tough not knowing what was going on the last 24 hours," Hewitt said. "It was more probably the lack of communication.
"If it was just worrying Nick, that's one thing, but when it revolves around the team and other people and I guess their preparation ... they want to be playing as well as they can not just in this event but also leading into the Australian Open. That's probably the hardest thing."
De Minaur, who had been preparing to play Dan Evans before having to face Norrie due to Kyrgios' withdrawal, refused to blame the last-minute reshuffle for his loss. De Minaur had beaten Norrie in their only previous meeting in April.
"Ultimately, I'm ready to play anyone," he said. "I've got to be better. That's the reality."
Hewitt defended de Minaur, saying it was a tough ask to reconfigure plans on the fly. He paid tribute to de Minaur's passion to represent his country in a veiled swipe at Kyrgios.
"I'm so proud of this bloke and the effort and how he makes playing for his country a priority," he said. "To have (the change) thrown on him yesterday wasn't easy.
"He's got to play two lefties now, where he was planning on playing two righties. It is completely different. But he's not going to make excuses, that's for sure."
Nick Kyrgios speaks out after United Cup withdrawal
Speaking to the Sydney Morning Herald, Kyrgios explained why he withdrew at the last minute, saying he needed to prioritise the Australian Open and get his body right. “Anyone outside of that wouldn’t have a great understanding (of the planning that goes into preparing for a grand slam),” he said.
“Going deep or not, winning a match at a grand slam level is not an easy task. People underestimate the pressure and the nerves with being a part of one of the biggest tournaments of the year.
“Throw in an injury and knowing you didn’t give yourself the best chance only adds to the mountain of pressure you face. So feeling good physically is important.”
The crowd in Sydney made their feelings known about Kyrgios' absence on Thursday night. One spectator wore a Kyrgios tee-shirt with a clown wig and makeup, while others held signs referencing Kyrgios' late withdrawal.
Following de Minaur's loss, Zoe Hives went down 6-4 6-3 to Katie Swan. It means Australia must win their mixed doubles clash and two singles matches on Friday to claim victory in the tie with Great Britain. Australia's top women's player Ajla Tomljanovic will take on Harriet Dart before Jason Kubler squares off against Evans.
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