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Playing with a purpose: Kyrgios hits 20 aces in ATP Cup win vs. Struff

Playing with a purpose: Kyrgios hits 20 aces in ATP Cup win vs. Struff

In Brisbane's second match Friday evening, Alex de Minaur wrapped up the victory for Australia after getting past Germany's Alexander Zverev for the first time in five attempts.

When Nick Kyrgios has a reason beyond himself to compete, his level often finds a gear that few can match.

With bushfires raging throughout his homeland, Kyrgios spearheaded a social media movement Thursday to raise funds for victims, an initiative that’s since caught a fire of its own. The 24-year-old, who pledged to donate $200 for every ace he hits throughout the Australian-summer swing, frequently flourishes in team competitions. Bringing an added element of motivation to succeed, Kyrgios played lights-out tennis to win his country’s ATP Cup opener in Brisbane.

On Friday evening, Kyrgios was nearly untouchable on serve, defeating Germany’s Jan-Lennard Struff, 6-4, 7-6 (4). In the first set, Kyrgios fittingly struck an ace on his first service point, drawing a loud ovation from local supporters. He broke in the fifth game when Struff’s forehand found the net, a juncture that enabled Kyrgios to settle in.

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Though Struff refused to go away in reaching a second-set tiebreaker, Kyrgios curled a nifty forehand lob winner—reminiscent of his team captain Lleyton Hewitt—to secure a mini break, and brought more heat to finish with 20 aces in the 72-minute contest. In the process, the world No. 30 raised a total of $6,000, as the ATP Cup is also donating $100 per ace during the event.

"I guess that's one thing that continually to get me through here or there," Kyrgios said in an on-court interview. "I was serving well. I'm just happy to get a win. Having the boys on the sideline, the team environment gets the best out of me."

When commended for his leadership in pushing for tennis insiders to rally for those affected by the fires, Kyrgios brushed off the compliment, and later teared up when talking about his own community.

"I don't really care about the praise too much. We've got the ability and the platform to do something," he said. "My hometown is Canberra and we've got the most toxic air in the world at the moment. That's pretty sad. It's tough... sorry."

Alex de Minaur posted his first win in five attempts against world No. 7 Alexander Zverev, turning the tide for a 4-6, 7-6 (3), 6-2 victory in two hours and 44 minutes to close out a tremendous start in Group F for the host nation.

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Zverev broke in the opening game after winning a 38-shot rally and was cracking his forehand with full authority early. After converting on his seventh set point, the former ATP Finals champion led 4-2 in the second set and held two break points. Unable to make either return in not converting, Zverev’s serving miseries eventually caught up with him.

While Zverev struggled to iron the kinks out with his kicker, De Minaur grew in confidence from the baseline. Stellar anticipation, a composed attitude and playing to the home crowd all came together for De Minaur, who took his first lead when breaking to start the decider. As the German wilted away, sulking in frustration, De Minaur did what his opponent couldn’t—slam the door completely shut—to deservedly earn his second Top-10 victory.