As Nick Kyrgios starts the year off, one bear keeps track

Written by Staff Writer, CNN

The Rod Laver Arena court is straining under the weight of the suits covered in black, blue and red, flowing on to the stands all around. Each piece of clothing flows into the remarkable contraption that is the glass-fronted Womborg research and development boardroom, barreling toward the top shelf, bound for the front counter.

But Nick Kyrgios is here with his favorite teddy bear, and he wants to show it off. Tired of everyone staring at his racket bag, the 22-year-old Australian professional is making the most of his brief moments at Melbourne Park.

Dressed to impress: Nick Kyrgios, in formal wear. Credit: Remi Ponthieu/CNN

Meet Kubinka. A plush kid-sized teddy bear designed by Kyrgios. It sat proudly on his lap as he prepares to face Australian Richard Gasquet in the Australian Open first round on Tuesday, and now sits at the center of the Womborg rolodex as he selects which rackets to use for each match in Melbourne.

“If the teddy bear fails, I’ll hold it in my arms,” he says. “If the teddy bear works, then I’ll go with the red one. If the teddy bear works, I’ll stop playing with it.”

As the world No. 44 contemplates his choice, a couple of passersby stop to gawk. “He’s got a racquet-bag,” one man says, incredulously. “I thought he had a little child’s racket for sure,” says the mother of a second child, waving the bear out of the way.

Kyrgios is clear on where he belongs.

“I’m not aware of what else is at the R&D department,” he says. “I don’t think they have teddy bears down there. I can guarantee that I wouldn’t eat any of their food, or play with a teddy bear, that’s for sure.”

The teddy bear may provide some temporary distraction, but it could be but a stopgap: most sponsors aren’t big enough to fund competitive sporting props. Sponsors generally provide equipment, including racquets, clothing and tennis balls. In a tennis world in which most players are millionaires, the minority are sponsored superstars, just as Kyrgios is.

For many young young people, with a budget to burn, getting a frilly pink collar, velvet elephant or pony will see the most visible thrills. In Kyrgios’s case, the teddy bear provided a clever solution: tennis couches and entertainment.

Nick Kyrgios steps out in the smart casual wear that is his trademark. Credit: Remi Ponthieu/CNN

It may be surprising that a kid from Brisbane will suddenly become a Nike commercial star. Kyrgios himself draws laughs for having been embarrassed by an aggressive pitchman he met in a previous guise as an Australian Rules footballer.

But he is no mere fad for Nike. The brand’s global-marketing director, Jo Ramsay, says that the brand considers every appeal through a process of “extensive analysis and due diligence.”

“We spend a significant amount of time with celebrities both at the level of advocacy for our brand and the level of endorsement,” she says.

Does his top sponsor value the brand?

“Obviously our brand is a lot more prominent in tennis than it is in Australia,” Ramsay says. “His sponsorship is one of many high profile sponsorships that can’t be overlooked. You can’t look at all of the choices of partners in isolation.”

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