Nick Kyrgios' Canberra-based tennis coach Todd Larkham. Photo: Graham Tidy
Teenage tennis prodigy Nick Kyrgios has the weapons to launch himself into the world's top 10 by the end of the year, but coach Todd Larkham says the Canberra star needs to cope with self-imposed pressure to continue his rapid rise.
Kyrgios restarted his booming career this week, winning his debut Masters match before crashing back to earth with a resounding 6-2, 6-2 loss to world No. 2 Andy Murray in Toronto.
Larkham says it's all part of the 19-year-old's steep learning curve after he announced his arrival on the big stage with a rampaging Wimbledon campaign in July, including an upset win over Rafael Nadal.
Nick Kyrgios in action at Toronto this week. Photo: AP
His ranking has jumped from outside the world's top 800 to No. 70 in 18 months and Canberra coach Larkham has been tasked with overseeing the development of Australia's most promising tennis talent in more than a decade.
It's a massive job for a man who spends most of his time nurturing juniors.
But with the eyes of the world watching and the weight of expectation from Tennis Australia, Larkham is adamant Kyrgios won't be a one-hit Wimbledon wonder.
"The thing about him is that he doesn't even know how good he could be yet," Larkham said.
"The sky is seriously the limit and the thought of Nick potentially being Canberra's first grand slam champion is really exciting. He loves the big events.
"He can consistently play top 30 tennis. What's to say that at the end of the year he won't be in the top 20 or even the top 10? He loves competing, playing the best guys is what drives him.
"His potential is enormous. There is pressure there, but it's about him dealing with the pressure in his own head."
Larkham and Australian Davis Cup coach Josh Eagle have taken over temporary coaching for Kyrgios.
They are working together with Larkham taking control when Kyrgios is in Australia and Eagle taking the international reins, including the US Open in New York later this month.
The Larkham-Kyrgios combination started 10 years ago when a chubby Kyrgios turned up at Tennis ACT coaching clinics.
They've now come full circle and Kyrgios has decided to reunite with his old mentor after an 18-month stint in Melbourne with Tennis Australia coaches.
The partnership has potential to be one the greatest success stories in Australian sport, with experts tipping Kyrgios to be the one to end Australia's 13-year grand slam title drought.
But how do you improve a kid who's got a 200 kilometre per hour serve, oozes on-court bravado and has already beaten the best player in the world?
"He trusts me. So I know what he enjoys doing, I know how to motivate him," Larkham said.
"He's had a good taste of the tour this year. What I bring is the relationship, trust and knowledge of his game and personality.
"But with Nick, it's about the little things, where he can improve in different areas and he continues to surprise you.
"There's a certain amount of pressure, but because I know him so well and [I'm] very confident in the areas he needs to work on ... it's not like I'm out there thinking he's a famous guy. He's just Nick. I've known him since he was nine years old."
Kyrgios' fame hit a new high after his outstanding Wimbledon campaign.
When he returned to Australia he was inundated with media requests, television cameras continually appeared at his family home in Watson and he usurped Bernard Tomic as the country's most promising talent.
Larkham was the man behind the scenes.
For those who don't know, the 39-year-old is a former tennis professional whose parents started the Hawker Tennis Centre.
His career-high ranking was world No. 135, he played against Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi, Lleyton Hewitt and Tim Henman in the prime of their careers.
His training partner was big-serving Aussie left-hander Wayne Arthurs, he played at all four grand slams and started coaching when he was just 14 years old.
"I've seen the journey with Nick and that's really motivated me," Larkham said.
"Nick has changed my opinion for what I look for in players. I used to look for the great athlete, but now I'm looking for the great competitor.
"It's the guts and courage under pressure, that's what Nick has. He had the qualities as a young kid, but not the athleticism.
"When he was 11 or 12, I thought he would struggle. But when he was 15, I called my brother [Brent] and said, 'this kid is amazing'. He adapted to every situation and found a way to win.
"No one knows at this point how good he can be because he has shown us he can keep improving."
Larkham is also the cousin of ACT Brumbies coach and Wallabies great Stephen Larkham, and plans to spend time with the Super Rugby mentor to trade family secrets.
"It's part genetics and part where we grew up, my dad was mad on tennis and Steve's dad was mad on rugby."
Australian tennis great Wally Masur backed the Larkham-Kyrgios relationship to blossom.
"Canberra is home for Nick, this is the place he can recharge," Masur said.
"He's working with Todd Larkham and they're comfortable ... I think it's a good idea. I remember when Todd called me when Nick was younger and he said he had talent. Now we're starting to see it."
Larkham spent a decade on the professional tour with brother Brent as his coach and Arthurs as a hitting partner.
"I made the main draw singles of all the majors, but only got to the second round twice, I wasn't quite good enough," Larkham said.
"I had a reasonable [playing career]. I hung between No. 130 and 250. I'm happy I had a chance to play against the top guys, but I spent most of my time on the challenger circuit trying to make a living."
While Larkham is working with Kyrgios, he hasn't stopped trying to scout the next big thing.
He has three junior stars in his stable - Dimi Morogiannis, Tallulah Farrow and Annerly Poulos. Poulos is the No.1 Australian player in the 11-year-old age group.
"She's a real stand out, very athletic and really good. That's exciting," Larkham said.
"We're [Larkham and Eagle] probably on a bit of a trial period to see how co-coaching works with Nick, we don't know how it's going to run for.
"It's an usual set up ... I think it's going to work well. Tennis in Canberra motivates me; I hate NSW in every [team sport]; I love the Brumbies.
"I just want to help kids follow their dreams. Nick and the guys 10 and up are worlds apart, but I can pass it down. It's an expansion of knowledge. I've seen the journey now ... I'm always looking for the next kid."