Australian firebrand Nick Kyrgios opened the new year in fine style on Sunday with a powerhouse win over Spaniard Feliciano Lopez at the Hopman Cup in Perth.
But unfortunately for Kyrgios, he and team-mate Daria Gavrilova, the defending champions in the mixed teams tournament, were upset 2-1 by Lopez and Lara Arruabarrena, allowing the Spaniards to clinch the tie.
World number 66 Arruabarrena had earlier levelled the tie after securing an unexpected straight sets win over Gavrilova.
The clash with Lopez was Kyrgios’s first official match since the 21-year-old was banned from the ATP tour in October after a tanking controversy in Shanghai, although he played in the International Premier Tennis League in December.
Kyrgios, ranked 13 in the world, came out firing against the 35-year-old Lopez, gaining an early break and rifling six aces past the Spaniard in his first three service games.
He served 14 aces in all and Kyrgios only faced one break point on his serve for the entire match, winning 6-3, 6-4 in 65 minutes.
Kyrgios said he was surprised with his sharp form, which he believed reflected work on both his physical and mental strength — the latter one of the terms of his ban applied by the ATP.
“I felt like I was going to be a bit rusty, but I played really well and it was surprising,” he said.
“I haven’t been doing that much on the court and I’ve been trying to get into a good headspace.”
Kyrgios said he had been working hard with former Watford fitness coach Martin Skinner in recent months.
“I’ve never really had a good strength conditioner in my team and that was one area where I could develop and take my game to the next level,” he said.
Kyrgios didn’t appear restricted by strapping on his lower left leg and said it was the result of an injury sustained while playing basketball earlier in the week.
After Kyrgios gave the Australians the lead with his win over Lopez, the 25th-ranked Gavrilova was expected to secure the tie by beating Arruabarrena, ranked 66th.
But the Spaniard belied her ranking with an impressive 7-5, 6-1 win.
The Spanish pair then claimed the deciding mixed doubles — played under the Fast Four format — triumphing 4-0, 4-2.
Earlier, the United States opened their Hopman Cup campaign in style with a 3-0 win over the Czech Republic.
The American pair of Jack Sock and Coco Vandeweghe won both their singles matches to clinch the tie and then made it a clean sweep with a victory in the mixed doubles.
After Vanderweghe beat Lucie Hradecka 6-4, 6-2, Sock then edged past Adam Pavlasek in three sets.
The dead mixed doubles rubber was a relaxed affair and the US came from a set down to win 2-4, 4-2, 4-1.