CINCINNATI: On the verge of possibly his greatest triumph, Australian tennis star Nick Kyrgios thought of the grandparents who nurtured his dream and his low point earlier this month.
Kyrgios defeated Spain's David Ferrer 7-6 (7/3), 7-6 (7/4) at the ATP Cincinnati Masters to book a Sunday finals date with 11th-ranked Bulgarian Grigor Dimitrov in a matchup of Masters finals debutantes.
On a television camera lens, Kyrgios wrote "74 + 89 R.I.P." in tribute to grandmother Julianah Foster, who died in 2014 at 74, and grandfather Christos Kyrgios, who died in April.
"He never missed a match. That was one thing," Kyrgios said. "And my grandma that passed away, she was pretty much my mum for the most part of my life. I have been pretty crazy ever since she left. They were unbelievable support. It was tough. I can't really talk about it too much."
Kyrgios often mentions how little tennis means in the overall scheme of things, as he cherishes time with family and friends.
"There are other things that are more important to me than tennis," Kyrgios said. "It's just a game. There's worse things happening in the world right now than me losing. That's part of the reason I can't take it so seriously.
"I've had family members that have passed away and I didn't get to see them enough because of tennis and I guess that could be a reason why I can't really give myself fully to the game as well."
Kyrgios, 22, has battled through a nagging left hip injury, but not all his issues were physical.
"I've just been going through a load of stuff that has distracted me from just trying to play some tennis and hopefully I'm just trying to get on the right track again," Kyrgios said. "I'm starting to, slowly.
"My grandpa passed away. Had some off-court issues. My head has been all over the place. I just haven't had that confidence in closing out big matches."
But he has shined this week, ousting next week's world number one Rafael Nadal in the quarter-finals.
"When he feels good and wants to play, he's great," second-ranked Simona Halep said.
Just a tennis player
After losing to Kyrgios, Ferrer said the Aussie could someday be number one.
"Nick is young guy. He's a nice guy. He's improving every year and he's the future," Ferrer said. "He will have a lot of chance to be number one in the world and to win Grand Slams, but depends of his mentality."
Finding the motivation for number one to matter might be Kyrgios' toughest task.
"It's just hard for me to take the game seriously at times. If I'm number one or number 500, I'm just a tennis player," Kyrgios said. "I don't really want to be remembered as an unbelievable tennis player. I would rather be remembered as someone who was kind to people and stuff like that."
At Washington, Kyrgios was at a low point.
"I wasn't feeling confident," he said. "I wasn't tanking, but I was mentally not there. I was going through a lot of stuff. (Now) I'm in the final of a Masters event. I wouldn't have (predicted) that, no way."
I'm still feeling pain
Especially with his sore hip.
"I'm rehabbing every day. I'm getting treatment for it. I'm seeing progress. It's good enough to play," he said.
"I'm still feeling pain in my hip. I'm not going to act as if it's 100 percent. I'm just pushing through it."
Kyrgios has support. He'll train next week with US standout Jack Sock in Kansas City. At the US Open in New York, coach Sebastien Grosjean will meet him. Aussie doubles pal Matt Reid will be there too.
"From where I was in Washington to where I am now, he has been a big part of that," Kyrgios said. "He puts me in a good head space, takes my mind off things a little bit... just keeps me grounded."
His Malaysian mother, Nill, is watching this week also.
"To have my mum there is unbelievable," Kyrgios said. "She does little things like my washing. She loves to travel with me and see me play... and obviously me having success is really good for her to see."