“It’s a huge loss”: Players pay respects to Kobe Bryant at Australian Open

MELBOURNE, Australia — Nick Kyrgios wore a Los Angeles Lakers No. 8 jersey to honor Kobe Bryant on Monday ahead of his most important match of the Australian Open against top-ranked Rafael Nadal, paying his respects without needing to say a word.

Fifteen-year-old Coco Gauff had Bryant’s numbers 8 and 24, along with the inscription “Mamba Mentality,” on her shoes in a doubles match at Melbourne Park.

Bryant’s sudden death in a helicopter crash near Los Angeles on Sunday along with eight others, including his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, has shocked and upset fans and athletes around the world.

After his four-set loss to Nadal on the main arena at Melbourne Park, one of the four most important venues in tennis, the 24-year-old Aussie wore one of Bryant’s No. 24 jerseys into his post-match news conference.

“When I woke up to the news, it was pretty emotional. It was pretty heavy, like, all day,” Kyrgios said. “Obviously I was having basketball on at my house, watching the games. I was heavy. Yeah, it’s just tough.”

Kyrgios, a big NBA fan who often wears basketball jerseys while practicing, wore a Bryant jersey from the locker room, through the corridor of champions, and into the warm-up on Rod Laver Arena on Monday. He took it off before play began.

“I never met Kobe. But basketball is practically my life. I’ve been following it for as long as I can remember,” Kyrgios said, adding that he tried to use the tragedy as motivation. “If you look at the things he stood for, what he wanted to be remembered by, I felt like, if anything, it helped me tonight. When I was down a break in the fourth, I was definitely thinking about it. I fought back.”

Andy Wong, The Associated PressAustralia’s Nick Kyrgios wears a shirt as a tribute to Kobe Bryant as he warms-up for his fourth round singles match against Spain’s Rafael Nadal at the Australian Open tennis championship in Melbourne, Australia, Monday, Jan. 27, 2020.

Fans in the crowd also wore Bryant jerseys with the numbers 8 or 24. Australian Open organizers also played a short video tribute to Bryant ahead of the match, one of the most anticipated encounters in the two-week, season-opening major.

Darren Cahill, who coaches two-time major champion Simona Halep and works as television analyst for ESPN, said he “felt sick” when he woke up to news of Bryant’s death.