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Love him or hate him, Nick Kyrgios appears to have a new perspective with his Citi Open title

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Love him or hate him, Nick Kyrgios appears to have a new perspective with his Citi Open title

WASHINGTON – Nick Kyrgios is the most polarizing player in tennis. That’s not an opinion, nor a question, nor an exaggeration. He’s not your prototypical tennis player and he is perfectly okay with that.

This week he played in Washington D.C.’s Citi Open in his first action of the hard court season. Immediately it was noticeable that there was a fresh vibe and excitement around Kyrgios. Not only was it his confidence he gained on the path to a title, but it was also a persona that has not been seen before from the 24-year-old. Dare say it appears to come from new maturity and a better understanding of his role within the sport. 

He's at a point in his career where he wants to go down a new path and already he's begun "cleaning up some bad habits."

On the court, he hits shots in-between his legs, lacks effort in certain parts of matches, among other antics. Off the court, he is not afraid to let his opinion be known to others nor does he utilize a coach. As a result, everyone has an opinion of the Aussie, good or bad.

This week in D.C. was no different. Every match he played had at least one ‘tweener’ shot through his legs. Underarm serves were aplenty. There was even your common viral Kyrgios moment when he chucked his water bottle at the umpire stand, then explained to the umpire that it slipped out of his hand. He also delivered a new pair of shoes to one of his opponents while playing.

During the championship match against world No. 9 Daniil Medvedev it was at full display. Tweener shots, underhanded serves, behind the back shots, almost all of which he won. It helped he didn’t need to break Medvedev. He didn’t have to worry too much about back pain that crept up in the first set. He won every service game and then took both tiebreaks, 7-6(6), 7-6(4).

"We all know how Nick can play when he wants to, and this week I think he wanted to play," Medvedev said in the championship ceremony.

His talent is not new, with his championship he is 5-1 against top-10 opponents in 2019. He also is the only player in tennis history to beat each of ‘The Big Three’ – Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic – in their first meetings. Earlier in the week, Tsitsipas considered him one of the most underrated players in the world.

A difference though – at least for this week – is with how Kyrgios is now handling himself. Even he said this week he felt like a "traditional tennis player". Every time he plays with less effort, he says it’s now to throw off his opponents, as he did in the second set of his semifinal match against Stefanos Tsitsipas. His tweener shots on lobs are done not because he is lazy but because he believes they’re completed at a better percentage than a back-facing return. 

“It’s his way of feeling comfortable when he’s on the court. He’s entertaining people,” Tsitsipas said after his loss to Kyrgios in the semifinals. “I believe we need people like him in the game, otherwise everything becomes too serious.”

At Rock Creek Park this past week he was one of the star attractions. He played in seven matches, six singles and one doubles, with six of those matches played on the premier court of the tournament. He’s getting the sought-after night sessions and hosting kid’s days. Spots that are not custom for an un-seeded player not from the United States. Every time we saw Kyrgios it was either a sellout or close to it.  

“A lot of people can relate to me. I have a massive following as well. I’m playing for a lot of people out there, not just myself,” Kyrgios said earlier in the week. “Like it or not, I’m a massive role model. I’m doing all these kid’s days at every single tournament. They’re picking me for a reason. I know deep down there’s a lot of kids that look up to me and I need to be better.”  

Better, in referring to his past behavior that has given him his notoriety.

But this week he’s pulled back the curtain a little bit, in addition to mentioning he needs to be better. He says he’s not directly challenging the tennis establishment that many believe he is. He claims he’s not intentionally being disrespectful. He admits he has made bad decisions in his past and even encouraged another young player to avoid the mistakes he’s made.

He goes about tennis his own way and that’s different than what many fans are accustomed to. 

"I've just been working really hard on and off the court to try and be better as a person and as a tennis player," Kyrios said after winning the championship. "This has been one of the best weeks in my life, not only on the court but just, in general, I feel like I've made major strides and I'm just going to take it one day at a time and hopefully I can continue on this on this new path."

“I was a very overweight kid. Got told by coaches, teachers that I wasn’t going to be very good at what I chose to do, which was tennis, and I think people can just relate to people telling you you can’t do anything, and I feel like I’m proving a lot of people wrong,” Kyrgios said when asked about who’s he’s inspiring. “I’ve beaten every single one of the best tennis players in the world doing it my way and I’m never going to stop doing that.”

Entering the tournament, much of the excitement surrounding Kyrgios was his doubles pairing with the sixth-ranked player in the world in Tsitsipas. The unique combination put together by tournament owner Mark Ein was part of his plan to highlight doubles matches for the event. 

No one was concerned about Kyrgios on the singles side of the draw. He was an unseeded player in a draw filled with up-and-comers looking to grab a notable title. Turns out there should have been more attention on Kyrgios as he filled stadiums and marched to the tournament Final.

“I always knew that I could produce good tennis, but the problem with me was not being able to do it every day and every week. I would go missing for a month and then show up to a tournament and maybe play well,” Kyrgios told reporters after his semifinal win over Tsitsipas, the No. 1 seed in the event. “I think it came from within that I just wanted to start being better as a tennis player and as a person.” 

"I'm trying not to change myself, you know, playing ping-pong with kids before I play, you know, I don't want to lose sight of who I am. I want to continue to have fun on court and be the entertainer I am. But it's a day-by-day process," Kyrgios said post-title.

Becoming a champion, again, at a 500-level event is a great start. It is his second title of 2019, sixth of his career and only his third at this level (two steps down from a major). Great timing for him with the U.S. Open right around the corner. The result puts him in position to become a seeded player at the year’s last major. His win will vault him to No. 27 in the world.

His talent is undeniable, as exhibited in the Citi Open. Many forget that he quickly rose to a No. 13 world ranking back in 2016 with a slew of titles. There have just always been obstacles when it comes to his consistency, most of them self-inflicted. 

Success is not going to come down to his abilities on the court; it will come from his mental fortitude. Kyrgios even openly admitted that he has a long way to go even after winning the Citi Open title and this is just a step. 

At long last, though, it appears Kyrgios has a new perspective on how he plays tennis which benefits everyone.  

MORE CITI OPEN COVERAGE:

7-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson to retire after 2020

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7-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson to retire after 2020

CHARLOTTE, N.C.  -- Jimmie Johnson sat down next to Jeff Gordon at a 2001 driver meeting and asked the champion if he had time to offer any career advice.

Gordon was so impressed with the fellow California native that he encouraged Rick Hendrick to start a team built specifically for the 25-year-old Johnson.

It turned into one of the greatest hires in NASCAR history and nudged Gordon aside as the most dominant driver on the track. Now Johnson will follow Gordon and many other NASCAR superstars into retirement as the seven-time champion announced Wednesday he will retire from full-time competition after next season.

The 44-year-old Johnson joins an exodus of popular drivers that began when Gordon retired after the 2015 season. Tony Stewart, Dale Earnhardt Jr, Carl Edwards, Matt Kenseth, Danica Patrick and Jamie McMurray are among those who followed Gordon out the door.

Johnson, the winningest driver of his era, said in a video posted to his social media and titled "(hash)Chasing8 one final time" that next season will be his final attempt to win a record eighth Cup title. It will be his 19th season in the No. 48 Chevrolet.

"I am so thankful for 18 incredible years of racing in NASCAR," Johnson said in the black-and-white video comprised of highlights from his career. "This sport has been good to me and allowed me to do something I truly love. I showed up chasing a dream and achieved more than I thought possible. I am looking forward to next season and celebrating what will be my last year as a full-time Cup driver. I know what this team is capable of and I hope 2020 is one of the best yet."

Johnson scheduled a Thursday news conference at Hendrick Motorsports to discuss his decision. He joins Gordon and Earnhardt Jr. as Hendrick drivers who have called it a career since 2015.

Reaction was immediate from drivers, as well as retired cyclist Lance Armstrong and seven-time Supercross champion Jeremy McGrath.

"Proud of you, bro," Armstrong wrote. "And even prouder to call you a friend. Let's go get (hash)8."

Gordon wrote that Johnson is "a class act & true champion on & off track" while current Hendrick teammate Chase Elliott was among the many young drivers to refer to Johnson as the greatest of all time with an emoji of a goat.

Johnson had two years remaining on his contract when new sponsor Ally signed on before this season to replace Lowe's, which had sponsored Johnson from his 2001 debut through 2018. Ally last month announced a three-year extension to sponsor the No. 48, but Johnson's future was not tied to the renewal through 2023.

"Jimmie Johnson is a legend in racing, the epitome of class and the ultimate representative of our brand," said Andrea Brimmer, Chief Marketing and PR Officer at Ally. "We are proud that Jimmie will finish his remarkable NASCAR driving career with Ally as his primary sponsor."

Johnson has 83 career victories, tied with Cale Yarborough for sixth all-time. His seven titles are tied with Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt for most in the Cup Series, the last one coming in 2016.

Johnson has been in a two-year slump and last won a race in 2017. He had two different crew chief changes this season and missed the playoffs for the first time since the format began in 2004. He finished 18th in the final standings and has just five top-five finishes the last two years.

Johnson has driven for Rick Hendrick his entire Cup career and set a NASCAR record in winning five consecutive titles from 2006 through 2010, an accomplishment that earned him Associated Press Male Athlete of the Year after his fifth crown.

All 83 of Johnson's wins have come in the No. 48 and include two Daytona 500s, four victories at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, a record 11 wins at Dover International Speedway, nine at Martinsville Speedway and eight at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

11.15.19 Rick Horrow interviews PepsiCo Vice President of Marketing Todd Kaplan

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11.15.19 Rick Horrow interviews PepsiCo Vice President of Marketing Todd Kaplan

Edited by Tanner Simkins

In the latest edition of Rick Horrow's Sports Business Podcast, Rick interviews PepsiCo Vice President of Marketing Todd Kaplan and takes you through the biggest sports business stories of the week.

LISTEN TO THE FULL PODCAST HERE

1. Sports investor Bruin Sports Capital received $600 million more to spend. According to the New York Times, Bruin Sports Capital is a sports investment and management company that invests in the technologies of media, marketing, and data surrounding sports. After raising $600 million from two even larger investors – CVC Capital Partners and the Jordan Company – Bruin Sports will be able to expand its portfolio of investments, which already include data analytics, media and streaming companies, and a fledgling drone-racing league. Currently, Bruin, led by Sport Business Handbook contributor George Pyne, has nearly $1 billion invested, including significant stakes in six companies across the modern sports landscape, from sports media start-ups such as The Athletic to a live-event provider selling high-end trips to events like the Super Bowl and the NFL draft. Overall, Bruin Sports Capital’s guiding philosophy is that people under 40 watch and consume sports and media in radically different ways from their parents – and this is likely how the strategic company will invest its newly-acquired $600 million: toward attracting future generations of sports and tech fans.

2. The NBA altered its bylaws prior to the start of the 2019-2020 season to allow teams to sell sponsorship packages outside of the U.S. and Canada for the first time. League rules previously prevented teams from participating in any ad campaign or sponsorship event outside of their home market. However, NBA chief innovation officer Amy Brooks told JohnWallStreet that the companies currently participating in the league’s jersey patch program – two-thirds of which have an international presence – indicated that the time was right “to grow [the NBA] brand and our partners’ brands globally.” Loosening bylaws surrounding international marketing rights should help the league grow revenues and connect with fans in other regions. The Washington Wizards were the first NBA franchise to take advantage of the rule change, signing an agreement with Japanese tech conglomerate NEC. The Wizards made Rui Hachimura the first Japanese player ever selected in the first round of the NBA Draft in 2019.

 

3. Airbnb is set to announce a global sponsorship with the International Olympic Committee running through the Los Angeles 2028 Games, according to SportsBusiness Journal. The deal would represent a significant shift in the home-sharing platform’s sports marketing strategy as Airbnb prepares for its IPO in 2020. According to SBJ, the deal would focus on Airbnb’s “experiences” strand, which allows hosts to offer access to their hobbies, skills, or expertise as part of offering out their homes for rent. The arrangement is not intended to infringe on the hotel and hospitality business that Olympic organizers require to stage the Olympics. Recent partners joining the IOC’s global TOP program have made significant investments, with a joint Mengniu Dairy and Coca-Cola deal back in June being valued at $3 billion over 11 years. Currently, 13 companies comprise the TOP program, getting category-exclusive rights to every Games, the IOC, and national Olympic committees.