‘Bromance’ fuelling Aussie tennis charge
THERE was a time when it felt like Nick Kyrgios and Alex de Minaur were going to be set against each other.
An Australian public and media tiring of Kyrgios' antics and underachievement was in danger of not only diverting all of its affection to the fresh new face that reminded them in so many ways of Lleyton Hewitt - but falling into the habit of comparing all of de Minaur's good qualities to the parts of Kyrgios' game that created so much frustration.
"We finally have someone who scraps for every point," the murmurs began. "And never puts a foot wrong."
Often one to go out of his way to cast himself as the bad guy, Kyrgios could have driven the wedge in further if he'd wanted.
You could have imagined him saying to the country, "if you prefer the battler without the big weapons, go your hardest" and pitting himself against the golden boy.
Instead something wonderful has happened.
Where others may have looked to highlight their differences, the two best men's players in Australian tennis have instead focused on what they have in common - and that's winning matches for their country.
Much has been written about Kyrgios' transformation when he's in a team environment, but perhaps the most enjoyable aspect of it from a fan's point of view is he seems to drop his guard when he's in a crowd.
A 24-year-old who spends so much time trying to act cool in front of the camera - and often shields his real personality - gets carried away in moments of raw, childlike jubilation.
It was impossible to watch the final points of Australia's thrilling doubles win against Great Britain at the ATP Cup in Sydney - and their celebrations afterwards - without breaking into a huge grin.
The chest bumps and horizontal hugs from Kyrgios and de Minaur were authentic and heartwarming and had American pro Kristie Ahn tweeting, "I am so here for this Kyrgios-de Minaur bromance".
Funnily enough for someone who has spent his entire life as a little brother to siblings Christos and Halimah, Kyrgios appears to flourish in a nurturing role.
It's obvious how much he enjoys being one of the boys, but it's when he acts as their leader he becomes the best version of himself.
There have been countless moments already through this competition where Kyrgios has taken his teammates to greater heights but the best, and most crucial, came after de Minaur hit a forehand into the net to give Great Britain a 16-15 lead in the super tiebreak and a match point on their serve.
The Sydneysider was on the brink of smacking a ball into the stands when Kyrgios pulled alongside him to offer encouragement.
"We were down match point and he (de Minaur) was pretty angry and I just said, 'Mate, you're fine'," Kyrgios said. "Then he hit a backhand down-the-line winner. I was like, 'See?'"
"I kind of look at him (de Minaur) as my little brother in a way," Kyrgios added. "I just try and be a good influence on him whenever I can when I'm around him, and I think he feeds off my energy a little bit."
De Minaur was endearingly deferential post-match, conceding Kyrgios had "carried" him to victory.
"It's just amazing to see what Nick brings day after day. He's come back from an epic win against Stefanos (Tsitsipas), and today he just played clinical in the singles and doubles," de Minaur said.
"I had a match that didn't go my way, but still, I couldn't have had a more supportive person after the match and even on the doubles court … it was great to be on the same side of the court as Nick, and hopefully there is plenty of more times."
Tennis appears to be realising the potential of team events, so let the age of Fire and Ice - as de Minaur has dubbed the duo - begin.
With any luck they'll follow in the footsteps of another odd pairing who helped secure Australian tennis' last great men's triumph.
Like Kyrgios and de Minaur, Mark Philippoussis and Hewitt had vastly different approaches to the game but formed an awesome combination while securing the 2003 Davis Cup title.
Don't bet against the Demon and the King doing something similar.