Kyrgios leads tributes as tennis mourns NBA star Kobe Bryant

Kyrgios leads tributes as tennis mourns NBA star Kobe Bryant

Nick Kyrgios said he was inspired by memories of Kobe Bryant as tennis stars at the Australian Open paid tribute to the basketball great following his death.

Bryant took up tennis following his retirement and was friends with a number of leading players.

He was at the US Open last summer and sat in Naomi Osaka’s box for one of her matches.

He also wrote a children’s book about tennis released last year called Legacy and the Queen.

Kyrgios looked close to tears as he walked out for his fourth-round clash with Rafael Nadal wearing a Los Angeles Lakers jersey bearing Bryant’s original number eight.

The Australian said: “I never met Kobe. But basketball is practically my life. I watch it every day. I’ve been following it for as long as I can remember.

“When I woke up to the news, it was pretty emotional. It was pretty heavy all day.

“It’s just tough. It’s horrible news.”

Kyrgios lost in four close sets, recovering from a break down in the fourth to force a tie-break.

The 24-year-old said: “If you look at the things he stood for, what he wanted to be remembered by, I felt like, if anything, it helped me tonight.

“When I was down a break in the fourth, I was definitely thinking about it. I fought back.”

Nadal had an association with Bryant through Spanish basketball star Pau Gasol, Bryant’s former Lakers team-mate.

The world number one said: “He (Gasol) always told me he is a spirit of hard work, he always wanted to increase his level. He is a true inspiration for the world of sport and for a lot of kids.

“This is one of those days you want to forget but of course Kobe Bryant will be in our hearts and in our minds for the rest of our lives.”

Novak Djokovic, who will play his quarter-final in Melbourne on Tuesday, was among those who knew the 41-year-old.

Writing on Instagram on Monday after learning of the deaths of Bryant and his daughter Gianna, the world number two said: “My heart truly mourns over the news today.

“Kobe was a great mentor and friend. There are not enough words to express my deepest sympathies to the Bryants and every family suffering from this tragedy.”

Djokovic added: “May God bless you and your Gianna. Thank you for being there for me and inspiring the entire world. Thank you for showing all of us athletes how to compete and respect sport.

“Thank you for the greatest legacy you leave behind with us. I’ll never forget your smile spreading positive energy everywhere you went. You and your daughter will live forever in our hearts.”

Djokovic had spoken about his friendship with Bryant in an interview on ESPN only a few days ago, describing how the five-time NBA champion had helped him when he was going through a difficult patch in his life and career.

Djokovic said: “He was one of the people that was really there for me and could give me some very valuable advice and guidelines to believe and trust in myself.

Andy Murray paid tribute to Kobe Bryant (Instagram)

“I’m very grateful to him for being there for me, for being very supportive.

“I love Kobe – who doesn’t? He’s an amazing guy and one of the best basketball players and athletes of all time.”

Osaka wrote an emotional Twitter post with the caption “I can’t”.

Beginning “Dear Big bro”, Osaka said: “I don’t really know what to do so I’m writing you this letter. Thank you for being you. Thank you for inspiring people everywhere, you have no idea how many hearts you’ve touched.

“Thank you for being so humble and not acting as big as you are. Thank you for caring and checking up on me after my hard losses. Thank you for randomly texting me ‘You OK?’, cause you know how f***** up my head is sometimes.

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-from Naomi. always with love.

A post shared by 大坂なおみ (@naomiosaka) on

“Thank you for teaching me so much in the short time I’ve been lucky enough to have known you. Thank you for existing. You will forever be my big bro/mentor/inspiration. Love you.”

Maria Sharapova was another player who said Bryant had helped her through tough times.

She wrote on Twitter: “Kobe and Gigi. This is incredibly difficult to process. I will never forget your generosity, and the time you set aside in some of my most difficult moments. I am forever grateful. My heart is with you and your beautiful family.”

Coco Gauff, who Bryant had spoken glowingly about at the US Open, paid her own tribute, writing ‘Mamba Mentality’ and number eight on her shoes for her women’s doubles match.

A montage of Bryant in action was played on the big screen in Rod Laver Arena ahead of Kyrgios’ clash with Nadal.