Players pay respects to Kobe Bryant at Australian Open

AP , Monday 27 Jan 2020

People gather to pay tribute to former NBA and Los Angeles Lakers player Kobe Bryant on January 26, 2020 (Photo: AFP)

Nick Kyrgios wore a Lakers No. 8 jersey to honor Kobe Bryant ahead of a fourth-round match against Rafael Nadal at the Australian Open.

The 15-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.

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. He took it off before play began against top-ranked Nadal.

Fans in the crowd 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 winner Simona Halep and works as television analyst for ESPN, said he ''felt sick'' when he woke up to news of Bryant's death.

''Certainly I looked up to what he used to do as an athlete, as a professional, an incredible basketball player,'' Cahill said. ''And especially his daughter passing away, as well. I couldn't think of anything worse. My two kids are here. They are 18 and 15. I could not get my head around that.''

Former Australian player and TV commentator Rennae Stubbs said she knew Bryant was a big tennis fan.

''We saw Kobe a lot at the U.S. Open''- he was there a lot last year,'' Stubbs said. ''He was on the ESPN set many times. He commentated half of Coco Gauff's match with our team. We saw him around. I saw him talking to Serena after one match.

''A terrible day for sport. He's one of the great, great champions.''

Gauff lost in the fourth round at the U.S. Open last year and beat defending Australian Open champion Naomi Osaka here before losing in the fourth round at Melbourne Park to fellow American Sofia Kenin.

She was still in contention in the doubles with another U.S. teeanger, Caty McNally on Monday. Gauff and McNally both wrote inscriptions on their tennis shoes for their match.

Other players were affected by the news.

''It was really tough this morning. You know, is the first thing, you know, when I woke up, bunch of messages. Definitely when I found out that, I was really, really sad, because it was someone that for sure I was looking up growing up and someone very special,'' 10th-seeded Gael Monfils said after his loss to Dominic Thiem. ''To be honest with you, really devastated by that, because it means quite a lot for me. All my thoughts and prayers for his family.

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