MELBOURNE: Rafael Nadal left the muttering and the preening, the underarm serving and the ‘tweening’, to his younger, flashier opponent, Nick Kyrgios.
Surely, Nadal was content to collect the win in the latest installment of their rivalry.
The top-ranked Nadal kept his thoughts to himself and limited his shot-making to the more traditional variety in an entertaining 6-3, 3-6, 7-6 (7-6), 7-6 (7-4) victory over home-crowd favorite Kyrgios on Monday to reach the Australian Open quarter-finals and get closer to a record-tying 20th Grand Slam title.
“What can I say again about Nick? When he is playing like today, with this positive attitude, he gives a lot of positive things to our sport. So I encourage him to keep working like this,” Nadal said. “Honestly, he is one of the highest talents that we have on our tour.”
Here’s how the elevated stakes and tension affected both men: At 5-all in the pivotal third-set tiebreaker, Kyrgios double-faulted. That offered up a gift-wrapped set point. But Nadal failed to take advantage because he double-faulted right back.
Still, two points later, the 23rd-seeded Kyrgios put a forehand into the net, and the set was Nadal’s. Not long after, Kyrgios double-faulted again to get broken at love.
That put Nadal ahead 2-1 in the fourth, seemingly in charge.
“Against Nick,” Nadal would say afterward, “you are never (in) control.”
Sure enough, Nadal faltered while serving for the win at 5-4, double-faulting to create a pair of break points, the second of which Kyrgios converted with a jumping forehand and celebrated by throwing his head back and screaming. Spectators rose and roared and waved their Australian flags in support of the 24-year-old from Canberra.
“A scary game,” Nadal called it.
But he regrouped and pulled the win out in the closing tiebreaker, which ended with Kyrgios putting a forehand into the net.
Nadal was just the better player overall. One measure: Nadal finished with more than twice as many winners, 64, as unforced errors, 27.
Kyrgios delivered 25 aces and some memorable moments — including walking out on court and warming up for the match in a No. 8 Los Angeles Lakers jersey to honor Kobe Bryant, the five-time NBA champion and 18-time All-Star who died in a helicopter crash Sunday at age 41.
“I wake up this morning with this terrible news. Super sad,” Nadal said about Bryant. “He has been one of the greatest sportsmen in history.”
A video tribute to Bryant was played on the Rod Laver Arena scoreboards before Monday’s match.
Nadal will next play Austria’s Dominic Thiem — his victim in the last two French Open finals.
Elsewhere, powerful Swiss Stan Wawrinka beat fifth seed Daniil Medvedev 6-2, 2-6, 4-6, 7-6 (7-2), 6-2 to set up a quarter-final with Germany’s Alexander Zverev, who overcame close friend Andrey Rublev 6-4, 6-4, 6-4.
And Simona Halep rose to number two in the world with a 6-4, 6-4 victory over Elise Mertens, taking a big step forward in a rapidly clearing women’s draw.
The Wimbledon champion from Romania, who avoided an exodus of top seeds in the previous round, will next play Estonia’s Anett Kontaveit, a 6-7 (4-7), 7-5, 7-5 winner against Iga Swiatek of Poland.
Angelique Kerber, the 2016 champion, was the latest big name to fall as she went down to Russia’s Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova 6-7 (5-7), 7-6 (7-4), 6-2.
Pavlyuchenkova’s quarter-final will be against Garbine Muguruza, the two-time Grand Slam champion who is resurgent since reuniting with coach Conchita Martinez, beating Kiki Bertens 6-3, 6-3.
Monday’s results (prefix number denotes seeding):
Fourth round: 5-Dominic Thiem (Austria) bt 10-Gael Monfils (France) 6-2, 6-4, 6-4; 15-Stan Wawrinka (Switzerland) bt 4-Daniil Medvedev (Russia) 6-2, 2-6, 4-6, 7-6 (7-2), 6-2; 7-Alexander Zverev (Germany) bt 17-Andrey Rublev (Russia) 6-4, 6-4, 6-4; 1-Rafael Nadal (Spain) bt 23-Nick Kyrgios (Australia) 6-3, 3-6, 7-6 (8-6), 7-6 (7-4).
Fourth round: 28-Anett Kontaveit (Estonia) bt Iga Swiatek (Poland) 6-7 (4-7), 7-5, 7-5; 4-Simona Halep (Romania) bt 16-Elise Mertens (Belgium) 6-4, 6-4; Garbine Muguruza (Spain) bt 9-Kiki Bertens (Netherlands) 6-3, 6-3; 30-Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova (Russia) bt 17-Angelique Kerber (Germany) 6-7 (5-7), 7-6 (7-4), 6-2.
Published in Dawn, January 28th, 2020