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Rafael Nadal downs Nick Kyrgios in thrilling Australian Open clash


Nadal roared to victory (Picture: AFP via Getty)

Rafael Nadal beat Nick Kyrgios in a four-set thriller on Monday night as he advanced to the quarter-finals of the Australian Open.

Nadal, the world No. 1 from Spain, needed three hours and 38 minutes to see off Australian world No. 26 Kyrgios, who showed tremendous fight to go toe-to-toe with the top seed before eventually going down 6-3 3-6 7-6 (8-6) 7-6 (7-4).

Nadal and Kyrgios – who wore a Lakers jersey as he entered the court in honour of the tragic passing of basketball legend Kobe Bryant – have rarely seen eye to eye but there was less bite than in their fiery 2019 meetings in Acapulco and Wimbledon, with a grudging mutual respect breezing through the air in the Rod Laver Arena.

Kyrgios was beaten (Picture: AFP via Gett)

As is always the case in a match between the two, there were some fabulous winners flying off the racquet of both players. Weighty blows were landed in a true heavyweight contest.

Kyrgios, often criticised for not giving his all during his career, could not be faulted for his contribution to a pulsating tie. The manner of his fightback in the fourth set when he looked down and out was reminiscent of a boxer getting up from the canvas.

Nadal, the greatest fighter in the history of the sport, ultimately looked physically the stronger of the two come the end of the contest – his route to the fourth round had been somewhat more straightforward – and after seeing off Kyrgios he will hope to be fresh for another stiff test against fifth seed Dominic Thiem.

Thiem had earlier cruised past Gael Monfils in straight sets to advance to the last eight of the Australian Open for the first time. He has become a real force on hard courts – summed up best, perhaps by back-to-back wins over Nadal’s great rivals Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic in the ATP Finals at the end of last season.

The winner of that tie will meet either Alexander Zverev or Stan Wawrinka – who took out arguably the biggest threat in Nadal’s draw, Daniil Medvedev, earlier on Monday.

Federer and Djokovic will begin the men’s quarter-finals on Tuesday, taking on Tennys Sandgren and Milos Raonic respectively.

A sloppy service game from Kyrgios – perhaps a knock-on effect from his four hours and 26 minutes third round tie with Karen Khachanov – gifted Nadal a 3-1 lead and the world No. 1 served meticulously to get his nose in front.

Nadal dug deep to win (Picture: Getty Images)

Kyrgios was fortunate not to fall behind at the start of the second set. A passive tweener on break point landed mid-court but, for once, Nadal didn’t devour his next forehand. By far the best game of the match to that point, Kyrgios survived to keep his hopes alive.

In the third game of the set, the Aussie was left laughing at the sheer brilliance of his opponent. A drop-shot and lob combo left Nadal in an awkward position retreating to the baseline but he swivelled and ripped a forehand winner, much to the amusement of Kyrgios.

Moments later, it was Kyrgios who secured the break. A fine passing shot on the stretch caught the back of the baseline and he was suddenly 3-1 up. He leapt and punched the air with delight as the Rod Laver Arena erupted.

Confidence began to flow through the world No. 26, who demonstrated his remarkable touch at the net with an exquiste cross-court half-volley flick on his way to holding for a 5-2 lead.

 

There were few chances in the early exchanges of the third set. Kyrgios was left panting flat on his back after a lung-busting rally in the seventh game of the set.

In the eighth, Kyrgios attempted a first underarm serve but netted. It momentarily inspired a Nadal charge but the first break point of the set was saved with a sumptuous drop-shot as Kyrgios levelled for 4-4.

It was Nadal’s turn to dig deep a game later. Though he didn’t face a break point, he came under immense pressure from the other side of the net, with Kyrgios narrowly missing at the crucial moments.

Kyrgios’ temper boiled over early in the third-set tiebreak. He smashed his racquet after netting a backhand, picking up a code violation for his troubles, with Nadal storming into a 4-1 lead.

A surprising forehand error from Nadal allowed Kyrgios to level to 5-5 but he was gifted the mini-break back, with the Aussie going for broke with an 135mph second serve and double faulting, but Nadal missed a set point with a double fault of his own.

His frustration was short lived. Kyrgios slapped a forehand into the net to bring an end to a 72-minute third set, with Nadal assuming control of the match.

Kyrgios kept fighting (Picture: Getty)

A double fault from Kyrgios saw Nadal’s grip tighten as he broke to love for a 2-1 lead in the fourth, with the contest in danger of fizzling out.

It didn’t, with Kyrgios continuing to stick with the top seed, and a double fault from Nadal gifted him two break point chances, with the Aussie converting the second to level for 5-5.

Kyrgios showed great heart again to save two break points from 15-40 down and guarantee himself a fourth-set tiebreak, with Nadal duly holding to set up another end-of-set shootout.

The Spaniard ultimately triumphed and set up a quarter-final with world No. 5 Thiem.

MORE: Daniil Medvedev reacts to Australian Open exit at the hands of Stan Wawrinka

MORE: John McEnroe calls on Serena Williams to wipe ‘offensive’ Margaret Court from the record books





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