It is fitting that Nick Kyrgios says he looks at tennis completely differently these days, for, after what can politely be called an eventful season, the 20-year-old is also being viewed in a much-altered light. No longer as just the charismatic young talent with the game to win grand slam titles, but as the brash, emotional guy with the questionable judgment and attitude.
Image rehabilitation work started at the Hopman Cup, where, by all accounts, Kyrgios conducted himself immaculately off the court, while helping Daria Gavrilova to carry off the trophy in impressive style. Not that scores matter at the Perth exhibition, obviously – even if former Wimbledon champion Pat Cash is adamant that results are what will ultimately count for most.
Asked whether Kyrgios could turn around public sentiment, Cash declared: "I don't really care, about the public or what the media say and I think you probably know that by now. I see it from a different side and my dad said it to me, and I said it about Andy Murray, and to the day I die I'll believe it's correct that when he starts winning matches, people will love him, and it's as simple as that.
"I mean, you wouldn't believe the stuff people thought about Murray in England after that misquote about English soccer. Everybody hated the kid, and I just said 'look, once he's winning matches and starts winning Davis Cup, people will love him'. It was the same with me, the same with Lleyton, and people turn it around with winning matches. Nick is a bit Vegemite, isn't he? So was I. So was Lleyton."
But is it that simple? Even as a dual grand slam champion and longstanding No.1, has Hewitt ever really been the beloved public figure he is far closer to becoming in imminent retirement than he was in his prime? Roger Federer, the most popular sportsman of all, said recently when asked about the polarising Australian that this is tennis, and people deserve second chances. So does Kyrgios expect the Australian public to grant him one?
"Whether they do or they don't that's their choice, I guess, I'm not gonna change in any way," Kyrgios said in an exclusive interview with Fairfax Media during a Yonex sponsor's function. "I think I play my best tennis when I'm emotional, and when I step out on the court I'm doing everything to win, and that's not gonna change." As to how spectators have received him so far this summer: "I think they've embraced me the same way that they always have, and I feel like I've responded well to everything."
Indeed, despite another "I don't want to be here, I could be in bed" rant before his Kooyong retirement last week, Kyrgios insists he is a changed person and player, his thrilling quarter-final run at Melbourne Park 12 months ago now seeming like it was "a long, long time" past. "I feel as a person I've grown immensely over the last year, I feel like I've learnt a lot of things, and I look at tennis in a completely different way. I'm enjoying myself more and I'm a happier person.
"I feel as if I've definitely improved as a player and I've worked hard at what I need to get better at, but with personal experiences off the court, I feel as if I've grown as a person and it's helped me on the court. Obviously at the end of the day it's just tennis. Win or lose, if I go out there, first round, I win, I lose, I'm the same person. I'm going to continue to get up every day and try and get better."
Cash acknowledges the steep gradient of the Kyrgios learning curve in what he describes as "a rough year". But there is also the question of whether the on-court outbursts and demonstrative, argumentative, slightly tortured behaviour can be counter-productive and distracting, even for a player who clearly is a born showman and loves to play to a crowd.
"It's the way he's always been," says Cash. "You've just got to cut the negative stuff out, because it drags you down. It tires you out. And I think he'll work that out, bit by bit, but he's a chatterbox, and he's got a funny sense of humour, and he yaps away. Look, he and Bernie [Tomic], it's gonna be a bit of a ride for them, they're gonna have some ups and downs."
Noted, yes. Disapprovingly by many. "I'm disappointed in his attitude but he's got to – and hopefully he has – taken notice of his mistakes and maybe learnt from them and we will see a new, different Kyrgios in 2016," says former great Neale Fraser. "We all know he's got the skill, and the talent, but you need a little bit more than that and hopefully he'll start to produce that at the Australian Open."
John Newcombe, too, is willing the penny to eventually clatter to earth. "I can't say I'm confident, but I've got my fingers crossed for him, because I hate seeing an extremely talented young athlete not take full advantage of their potential and get to where they could go. I just hope that he gets it all together."
Experienced coach Roger Rasheed says he is not frustrated that Kyrgios has not already achieved more, given his ability, weapons and excellent record in big matches, for the South Australian sees a young man growing up, and notes that everyone does so in their own time and way. As for the non-tennis side of that aforementioned coin. "Obviously there are a few things that you wouldn't want to see take place on the court, but that's a maturity process and I'm sure Nick's learning and saying 'OK, next time that's around, that can't happen'."
Particularly given how much has happened so quickly, these can be hard lessons, but Kyrgios is smart enough that it would be astonishing should he truly not realise how close to the edge he is teetering , and how difficult a poor image can be to shed. There is a tattoo on his forearm that reads "time is running out". At 20? Surely it isn't. Not yet. But just as Kyrgios says, he is looking at tennis differently these days, curious, critical and unrelenting, still, is the collective gaze upon him.