Nick Kyrgios says tennis drove him into a dark place long before Naomi Osaka raised mental health issues and the Australian star ponders his ATP future with increasing uncertainty.
Kyrgios, who has played only five events since March 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic, spoke at the Citi Open in Washington, where he won the most recent of six career ATP titles in 2019.
"I'm a part-time player I guess," he said. "It feels still odd to be back.
"I don't miss it that much any more. I feel vibes, like every time I'm at a tournament it could be my last time I'm ever going to be here.
"I feel weird. I feel strange about my career at the moment. But I love being back. I love seeing all my mates."
Kyrgios said tennis is starting to embrace unique personalities, but the Aussie says it has taken strength to withstand the pressure.
"I'm just resilient," he said. "If someone is not as resilient as me mentally, the amount of hate I got, the amount of racism I got, the amount of bullshit that I got from the tour, from fans, from everything, I could have been...
"I did fall into places where people like Naomi Osaka are now speaking about mental illness, where I was going through, in my personal opinion, 20 times as bad.
"I'm just saying this sport could have driven me into a place of dark, which it did for a bit, how mentally tough it was for 18, being one of the most well-known players in Australia, getting absolutely hammered with media. It's not so easy.
"Now I'm 26, I'm old enough. I know it's all bullshit."
Having seen praise for Osaka's courage in withdrawing from the French Open and Wimbledon over mental health issues, Kyrgios wishes his younger days had seen such support.
"All they receive is good press. They don't really receive hateful messages," Kyrgios said. "They don't really receive ridiculously historic fines for hitting balls out of the stadium or getting a code violation.
"Instead of out-casting and almost crucifying a personality, you say, OK, this guy is different."
Kyrgios says he has served as an example and popular with fans.
"Deep down I know I'm great for the sport. You need personalities like that," Kyrgios said.
"Tennis has really struggled in the past embracing people that do it differently. They're starting to warm up to it. I've been the example that tennis needs to embrace personalities and to make everyone feel welcome.
"Feel like I've been pretty iconic in the sport in the sense of doing it my own way."
Kyrgios praised Casper Ruud, who won three European clay titles the past three weeks, even after tweeting the Norwegian was "stealing points" in the rankings.
"Look at Casper. To win three back-to-back tournaments is not easy at all," Kyrgios said. "He's got amazing discipline, obviously a great player. I never cut down his tennis. If that's what's going to work best for his career, that's great."
Kyrgios beat Russia's Daniil Medvedev in the 2019 Washington final, but the 2020 event was wiped out by Covid-19.
World number 77 Kyrgios withdrew from the Tokyo Olympics in part over a spectator ban but will have plenty of fans this week with venue capacity at 100%.
"You can feel the energy around the courts," Kyrgios said. "That's for sure my favorite part of being back.
"I feel as if I'm not playing for myself any more. I feel like I'm playing for a lot of people who can relate to me."
Kyrgios made third-round exits at the Australian Open and Wimbledon and lost his second match last week in Atlanta.
"I don't take any tournament for granted. I try and soak in as much as I can," he said. "I don't feel like I'm trying to climb up the rankings or win any tournaments. I'm doing it my own way, taking it day by day.
"If I think too far ahead, it's too complicated."