HIGHLIGHTS: Cam Norrie d. Nick Kyrgios, in the second round of last week's Atlanta Open.

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Nick Kyrgios is playing less these days, but says he's enjoying tennis more because of it.

The 26-year-old is returning to the ATP event in Washington, D.C. this week as the defending champion, having won it in 2019 before it was cancelled in 2020.

"It's good to be back obviously, especially at these tournaments where I'm extremely comfortable and there's a lot of crowd," he told press in Washington. "The first time I came on site today, everyone was kind of embracing me. Felt like I was playing almost in Australia. I feel completely comfortable here.

"I think it's awesome. I think that's for sure my favorite part of being back on tour, just seeing the fans, seeing the support."

Kyrgios didn't play a tournament between the Australian Open and Wimbledon, but is playing his second event in two weeks in the U.S.

Kyrgios didn't play a tournament between the Australian Open and Wimbledon, but is playing his second event in two weeks in the U.S.

Kyrgios isn't always this happy about getting attention. The talented but combustible Aussie has frequently been involved in controversy for his on-court behavior, and says it affected him during the start of his career.

"The amount of hate I got... I'm just saying this sport could have driven me into a place of dark, which it did for a bit," he said. "Eighteen [years old], being one of the most known players in Australia, getting absolutely hammered with media. It's not so easy."

Though he says he has adjusted, the 77th-ranked Kyrgios argues that having players with personality is important for the sport, and should be more embraced.

"I've only played five tournaments in two years," he said. "You look at any kind of tennis social media, they're posting about me every couple of weeks. Look, deep down I know I'm great for the sport. You need personalities like that. I give back to every tournament I'm involved in. I do as much as I can for them."

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Look, deep down I know I'm great for the sport. You need personalities like that. Nick Kyrgios

Still unsure about the amount of tennis he wants to play, Kyrgios nevertheless finds that he's enjoying the game when he does compete—something he hasn't always done during his career, acknowledging that he would prefer to be playing basketball, video games, or just be back at home.

"The positive is, I don't take any tournament for granted. I don't take any match for granted any more," he said. "I try and soak in as much as I can. Just the practice, being around the courts, being at the highest level.

"I just feel like I'm just really at my own pace. I feel like I'm not really competing with anyone. I don't feel like I'm trying to climb up the rankings or win any tournaments. I enjoy now playing just for fun. I really do enjoy just being around fans, just talking with them, getting to know what they do. It was just, like, some touching moments that I remember, my favorite parts of my career, just being with fans."