MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Tennis great Rod Laver has backed Nick Kyrgios as a future grand slam champion and told critics to lay off the hot-headed Australian following his decision to skip the Rio de Janeiro Olympics.
Kyrgios withdrew his name from consideration on Friday and blamed his Olympic committee for "unfair and unjust treatment" after a row with team chef de mission Kitty Chiller over his behavior..
Laver, the only man to win a calendar grand slam twice, said the 21-year-old needed support, rather than censure.
"If we can encourage him and not criticize is probably the best thing that can happen right now," the 77-year-old said in comments published by News Ltd media.
"I think all this criticism, it's like waving a red rag at a bull.
"The more he hears it, the more he's going to be critical of everything -- and nobody wins."
The Australian number one's withdrawal comes weeks after compatriot Bernard Tomic confirmed he would skip the Games over scheduling.
Tomic was also warned by Chiller about his behavior on court.
The loss of Australia's two greatest medal hopes has heaped further scorn on the players from a disappointed public but also prompted criticism of Chiller and the Olympic committee for being over-bearing.
Tennis Australia has been a staunch defender of Kyrgios, who was dumped out of the French Open's third round with a string of code violations, including one for yelling at a ball-boy.
"He's got a lot of talent and he’s got the right structure physically," said Laver of Kyrgios's credentials as a future grand slam title winner.
"You can see the other big guys that have got movement, they can really be great tennis players. Nick is in that category.
"We need him to keep going and become a great player."
(Reporting by Ian Ransom; Editing by Nick Mulvenney)