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Nick Kyrgios to reunite with childhood coach in Canberra

Nick Kyrgios and Todd Larkham in a September 2012 filephoto.

Nick Kyrgios and Todd Larkham in a September 2012 filephoto. Photo: Melissa Adams

 The man who first coached Nick Kyrgios as a pudgy, leaden-footed 10-year-old, but one with the fiercely-competitive attitude that this week carried him into the Wimbledon quarter-finals, will resume in a caretaker role when the pair return to Canberra to prepare for what comes next.

Todd Larkham, the ACT national academy head coach, will work with Kyrgios, who is moving back home to his family from Melbourne. The teenager has made a stunning improvement in the past 18 months under Melbourne-based Tennis Australia national coach Simon Rea, but that relationship was confirmed only until the end of Wimbledon.

"Between now and when he goes to America for the next run of tournaments, I suppose I'm caretaker coach for that period," Larkham said. "I'm the only TA coach in Canberra and Nick wants to base himself back in Canberra, so I will be the coach for that month, until things are resolved."

Larkham said he had not been approached about an ongoing relationship with the teenager he guided from the age of 10 to 17. Asked whether he would like to be more than a fill-in for what he agreed was one of the plum jobs in tennis, Larkham said: "No one's come to me with that. Probably not. I've got two young kids, and it's a massive commitment, to travel round the world.

"But no one's asked me, and I haven't really thought about it, to be honest. I will consider that if it ever gets presented to me."

There is, he says, the option that he could oversee Kyrgios' court sessions when in Canberra, and another coach take one of the game's hottest properties on the road. "That’s one situation that could work, I think," Larkham said. "Nick's indicated that that's where he wants to be when he's back in Australia, so someone's going to have to do that training in Canberra, so that could be me.

"If he gets a full-time coach then that coach may come back to Canberra and do the training blocks. I don't know. It depends who it is and if they want to do that."

Larkham paid tribute to Rea and strength and conditioning expert Aaron Kellett, who have helped take the 19-year-old from outside 180 to inside 70 since their collaboration began after the Australian Open junior final last February. "Simon and Aaron have done an incredible job, a phenomenal job," Larkham said. "They've dedicated their lives to this kid the past 18 months."

What Kyrgios needs from here, Larkham said, is someone to help him cope with the life-changing Wimbledon experience that included an upset of world No.1 Rafael Nadal. His message, though, remains the same.

"He's got to keep his feet on the ground, he's got to continue to work hard and continue to develop his strengths and his weapons, and work on his weaknesses, and the weaknesses are probably the volleys and the transition, and his movement and endurance. There's not a lot else; he does everything else pretty well."

Larkham said effort was never an issue during his seven years with a player who gave only his best at training, and wanted only to win. Kyrgios has a temper, yes, gets angry at times, but never wants to lose, no matter what the situation or occasion.

As a 10-year-old, said Larkham, Kyrgios was "chubby, very chubby. Extremely slow. Beyond slow. He was a bit erratic, but rather than the tennis skills or the physical skills, he was just an unbelievable competitor with a huge amount of self-belief, even at a young age, that he was going to be a good tennis player."

It all began to fall into place when Kyrgios was 15. At the 16-and-under nationals that year, he reached the final. Larkham turned to his brother Brent, also a renowned coach. "I remember saying to my brother 'this kid is going to be really good'. That was the time," he said.

The shock, then, has been how quickly this has all happened. Only a win in the Nottingham Challenger spared Kyrgios from needing to qualify for Wimbledon, which Larkham thought he could probably do.

"But to beat (Richard) Gasquet and Nadal really surprised me,'' he said. "I thought he could do it in the future, but to do it here this week was amazing, and the match against Nadal was incredible. Nick just left absolutely everything on the court. Physically, emotionally, mentally, he left it all out there, and to back up the next day he didn't have any gas left."

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