Young Australian tennis players paying price for antics of Kyrgios, Tomic

(Photo credit should read TONY ASHBY/AFP/Getty Images)

MELBOURNE -- Nick Kyrgios and Bernard Tomic headline Australian men's tennis but the pair's well-publicised incidents, on and off the court, have put a number of their compatriots on the defence - and not just at the baseline.

Australian tennis legend Pat Cash, the 1987 Wimbledon champion and two-time Australian Open finalist, believes the negative headlines about Kyrgios and Tomic means the younger players making their way through the Futures and Challenger Tour events, the stepping stones beneath the full professional circuit, are struggling to find sponsors and people who want to back them.

"You've got to say that young Australian male tennis players, in light of what has been happening over the last couple of years, do not have a very good reputation and they're struggling to find sponsorship," Cash told ESPN in an exclusive interview. "Brands stand back and say 'we don't want bad publicity', and that's kind of what is happening to [the emerging players]."

Andrew Whittington may just be an antidote that Australian male tennis needs, a talented young man who provides only good publicity. Cash believes the 23-year-old Melburnian "deserves everything he can get if he can get a bit of a break here".

Whittington this time in 2016 was ranked No. 570; leading into the Kooyong Classic and the Australian Open -- for which he has received a wildcard into the draw -- he stands at 190 after a career-high ranking of No. 170 in November. Whichever way you look at it, he is a major improver for whom Cash's validation is a deserved stamp of approval ahead of the two tournaments in his home town that have the potential to propel him even further up the ATP world rankings.

"I think I've had a good year, last year, I've been training really hard," Whittington told ESPN on-court at Kooyong just after the announcement that he would take on Croatian young gun and world No. 57-ranked Borna Coric on Tuesday.

"It's all hard work and it's paying off at the moment."

In cricket terms, his responses to his efforts of 2016 appear to be what could be described as 'line and length'; that analogy is deliberate as cricket may have won him over had he not pursued in earnest tennis since the age of 16. And those same responses reflect what Cash believes is the right attitude to achieve success.

The Wimbledon champion, 51, now plays his part in fine-tuning Australia's tennis talent right down to the 'little things'. He recalls a training camp in Morocco, where Whittington's mental strength was put to the test even more than his double-handed backhand.

"We would have a penalty for guys who forgot things and he would forget his wallet one day, and his shoes the next day," Cash told ESPN while he looked on as Whittington went through his paces at Kooyong.

"It was a points system and whoever got the most points ended up having to wear one of my sweaty old t-shirts that I had played in for the whole week. He ended up winning that award, and I think he won it quite regularly.

"It was an idea to make the kids focus on what they were doing. If they skipped their stretching or if they didn't have their drink bottle near them the on-court, just simple professional things.

"We taught them and we did it in a fun way. He was good spirited but he ended up winning [the sweaty shirt]. Ironically, he's been the one who has done the best in the end."

That record is illustrated by the fact that Whittington has banked around US$195,000 for his efforts in singles and doubles predominantly in third-tier Futures tournaments in which the prize money generally tallies around US$15,000. He's won tournaments from Toowoomba in Queensland to Cambodia and Greece, and reached the quarterfinals of the Australian Open doubles in 2014.

Top-seeded at the 2016 Australian Open playoff, a chest infection forced his exit from that event -- spoiling his chance to line up against the best. Whittington spent the next 12 months playing in Futures Tournaments around Asia.

"I went out there and tried to do my best," Whittington says of the 2016 Australian Open playoff. "I actually got a win in the first round but [Australian] J.P. Smith got the better of me in the second round. It was a tough time with the infection lasting about three or four weeks but I'm feeling 100 percent now and ready to go."

With a fondness for 'quick' courts, the 188-centimetre right-hander may not reach high enough to play with the Orlando Magic, his chosen NBA team, but he's taking the heat that goes with this game in his stride. That's unless it actually does get too hot out there.

"I collapsed in Korea last year when I was on-court against another Aussie, Max Purcell. I wasn't feeling well and, actually, every time I've been to Korea I've ended up in hospital. I haven't had a great time there ... I was happy to make the final, though."