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How tragedy and heartbreak brought out the best in Nick Kyrgios

MELBOURNE, Australia -- He may have fallen in four engrossing sets to world No. 1 Rafael Nadal in the fourth round of the Australian Open, but local hope Nick Kyrgios was responsible for inspiring his nation and the rest of the world during his time at Melbourne Park.

The 23rd seed, who lost to Nadal 6-3, 3-6, 7-6 (6), 7-6 (4) on Monday, made a generous pre-tournament pledge, saying he would donate AU$200 for every ace he served during the Australian summer of tennis. Kyrgios had already served 69 aces after making the announcement at the ATP Cup in Brisbane and thundered down a whopping 100 in Melbourne -- the most of any player through four rounds -- to total AU$33,800 for bushfire relief.

Word of Kyrgios' generosity made its way as far as the United States, with Dallas Mavericks legend Dirk Nowitzki matching the Aussie's pledge. One of Kyrgios' sponsors, Grill'd -- an Australian fast-food chain -- also promised to match the donation, while Australian betting company Sportsbet vowed to donate AU$1,000 per ace served throughout the Australian Open.

Together, Kyrgios, Nowitzki, Sportsbet and Grill'd raised a staggering AU$201,400 through the Aussie's aces, with countless others also joining in with their own personal donations based around Kyrgios' big service game.

But in addition to his own contribution, the world No. 26 was also the catalyst for the Rally for Relief evening. It featured a number of the game's biggest names, who donated their time, efforts and money to raise almost AU$5 million to help fight fires and rebuild the nation in the wake of the worst Australian bushfire season in living memory.

Among those to make contributions were Nadal and six-time Australian Open champion Roger Federer, who together offered AU$250,000. Fellow greats Novak Djokovic and Maria Sharapova also dug deep for AU$25,000 each, while Serena Williams donated her entire AU$65,500 prize for winning the ASB Classic in Auckland.

But perhaps it was German Alexander Zverev who made the world stand up and pay attention when he declared he would be tipping in AU$10,000 for every win during his Australian Open run. Not only that but he would pledge every single cent of the AU$4.12 million prize money if he won the tournament.

Even tennis legend and ESPN commentator John McEnroe announced he would send AU$1,000 the way of the cause for every set the Kyrgios won after his first-round win over Lorenzo Sonego. The mercurial Australian won seven sets, adding another AU$7,000 to the kitty.

Frankly, there were so many players, coaches, organisations such as the ATP and WTA tours, and tennis personalities who made generous donations that trying to name all would be a disservice to those overlooked.

Of course there's nothing to say these companies, players and past legends wouldn't have dipped into their pockets without Kyrgios being the first to step forward, but the pain and emotion conveyed in the Canberra native's voice while announcing his goal for the summer was as real and as raw as we've ever seen from him.

The groundswell of support for Kyrgios and his broader idea was immediate and powerful, and the seriousness with which he played his tennis throughout the first week in Melbourne was equally refreshing and scary. The potential to be great is still there, and finding passion for the game can only be good for tennis.

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Against Nadal, and needing to break back in the fourth set in order to stay in the match, Kyrgios displayed a maturity and resolve not seen in his roller-coaster career thus far. It's little surprise that he broke back and rode the momentum to a tiebreaker before ultimately falling short to the 19-time Grand Slam winner.

This year something is different, as he said pre-Australian Open. He's playing for far more than just personal glory. The brand of tennis a selfless Kyrgios plays would comfortably nestle him within the top-10 players in the world.

There's no shame in going down to the world No. 1, either, especially after fighting through a five-set epic in the match prior against Russian 16th seed Karen Khachanov.

And while Kyrgios was understandably downbeat in his news conference following his loss to Nadal, he did admit he learned a lot about himself in the past two weeks on the back of his crusade.

"I feel like I've made progress as a human. As a tennis player I don't really care about as much," he said. "I've always had good perspective. If anything [the pledge] did fuel me and made me play harder. [The bushfires] are still going, everything is still going.

"I mean the last month for me has been pretty hectic, been pretty emotional. I'm pretty tired. I want to try to continue to help where I can."

The challenge for Kyrgios is to maintain this heightened level of play, vastly improved on-court demeanour and passion for the game throughout the year.

Having a cause to fight for has been the best thing for him, and while on paper it reads as a fourth-round exit, the result at Melbourne has been so much more for one of tennis' most polarising names.

Maybe, just maybe, it's the turning point so many have been hoping for.