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Saturday Serve: Nick Kyrgios is a star but there's more where he came from

Saturday Serve

Nick Kyrgios leads Canberra's current crop of sportspeople. They are the best the capital has ever produced.

Nick Kyrgios leads Canberra's current crop of sportspeople. They are the best the capital has ever produced. Photo: Getty

There's always the fear of putting too much pressure on young athletes with articles such as this, but watching Canberra's tennis ace Nick Kyrgios at Wimbledon in the early hours of Friday morning, you know he can handle it. Let me rephrase that - the 19-year-old seemingly thrives on it.

So I'm just going to come out with it, because I'd hate you to tune in too late and miss all the action.

I'm not just talking about Kygios, that secret is well and truly out. Since his second-round victory at Wimbledon, saving nine match points against a top-class opponent, Kyrgios has been anointed by many experts as a future grand slam winner and potential world No 1.

Mark Webber must be considered the region's benchmark in the sporting arena so far.

Mark Webber must be considered the region's benchmark in the sporting arena so far. Photo: Getty Images

But there's more where he came from. Canberra is now watching the emergence of the most promising, exciting, talented and internationally marketable group of athletes the Territory has ever produced.

Touch wood. Yes, there's always danger in putting more emphasis on potential than those who already have runs on the board. 

But already this year we've seen basketball player Patty Mills play a pivotal role in an NBA championship with the San Antonio Spurs and cyclist Michael Matthews wear the pink leader's jersey for six days in his debut at the Giro d'Italia, one of the sport's three grand tours alongside the Tour de France.

Patrick Mills celebrates Spurs' NBA championship.

Patrick Mills celebrates Spurs' NBA championship. Photo: AFP

These guys are making names for themselves in sports that have a global audience.

This is by no means to discredit those local athletes who have come before but, in terms of international appeal, Canberra is on the precipice of a golden era.

Last year, when Canberra celebrated its centenary, AFL legend Alex Jesaulenko and squash queen Heather McKay were recognised as the best athletes from the region over the first 100 years.

Michael Matthews celebrates on the podium after winning the sixth stage of the Giro d'Italia.

Michael Matthews celebrates on the podium after winning the sixth stage of the Giro d'Italia. Photo: AP

Jesaulenko still gets recognised on the streets of AFL-mad Victoria, with people walking past and greeting him with "Jezza, you beauty!" - the catch-phrase that defined his 1970 grand final mark of the century for Carlton. But Jezza was a legend in an Australian-only game.

McKay's international record speaks for itself, undefeated in squash matches between 1962-1981, winning a record 16 British titles. But it was an amateur era.

While his record doesn't stack up to those same numbers, with nine wins and 42 podiums, in terms of international reach, retired Formula One driver Mark Webber must be considered the region's benchmark in sporting recognition.

He grew up in go-karts and delivering pizza in Queanbeyan, but by the end of his formula one career the chisel-chinned driver was a global icon. 

There have been rugby union stars such as George Gregan, David Campese and Stephen Larkham who have have grown up playing on the fields of Canberra and Queanbeyan and gone on to win World Cups.

Michael Bevan was once considered the best one day international cricketer in the world and Brad Haddin continues to wear the gloves in the Australian cricket team.

The legendary teams of the Canberra Raiders helped give the capital a sporting heartbeat in the 80s, but that essentially gave us bragging rights on the east coast of Australia.

Canberra's transient population means we've always embraced sporting champions that have come to call the nation's capital home along the way, like Melbourne-born world champion marathon runner Rob de Castella or Albury basketballer Lauren Jackson.

Even 18-year-old Dante Exum, who was picked at No. 5 in the NBA Draft on Friday, completed school at Canberra's Lake Ginninderra College and has become a multi-million dollar earning global identity before he's even laced a boot in the world's best basketball league.

But in terms of Canberra talent, born, raised and trained, give me a bunch that can match the young athletes we're watching now. And they're just getting started.

At the top of the list is Kyrgios.

On Thursday night, against a Frenchman who has been ranked as high as seven in the world, Kyrgios not only showed he can hang tough, but he did it while strutting his stuff.

Coming back from two sets down, he continued to bounce the ball backwards through his legs before every serve, long chain and pendants swinging along with his loping confident swagger. With match points on the line, he continued to hit his shots and smile.

He's a superstar in the making, but not alone.

Considered a towel-waver in the NBA last year, 25-year-old Mills now has NBA clubs chasing him after proving his credentials in this year's play-offs, especially a 14-point shooting spree in the championship-clinching game.

Matthews, 23, is a baby by cycling standards and only took it up seriously at 17 after leaving behind motocross. He won the Under 23 world championship, but many have predicted he can win the open title too, as Australia's most famous cyclist Cadel Evans did. With the nickname Bling and a personality to match, he makes his debut at next week's Tour de France.

There are others to consider too.

If not for a groin injury that has hindered his form and progress, Canberra's Tom Rogic could have been playing with the Socceroos at the World Cup, the world's largest sporting event. Despite moving to Scottish club Celtic, the 21-year-old is yet to really make his mark, but still has time to develop.

Australia probably takes for granted the success of our men's and women's hockey teams, but Canberra's Anna Flanagan was World Young Player of 2013. She's got game, an international following, her own hockey stick brand and model looks.

Caroline Buchanan was discovered in the same sport talent Identification program as Michael Matthews and, at 23, is a multiple world champion in BMX and other cycling disciplines. A gold medal in Rio 2016 would boost her international profile.

Sprinter Melissa Breen broke the 20-year record of Melinda Gainsford-Taylor with 11.11 seconds in the 100m earlier this year. She must cut that further to be considered a genuine international contender for medals, but again, she is just 23.

There's time for them all, and the best thing as Canberrans, is that we get to watch it all unfold and simply cheer them on.

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