Rafael Nadal settles the score with Nick Kyrgios
World No. 1 ousts Aussie, who called him 'super salty', in respectful match
World No. 1 Rafael Nadal weathered a fierce storm from gutsy showman Nick Kyrgios yesterday to set up an Australian Open quarter-final against Dominic Thiem and keep alive his quest for a 20th Grand Slam title.
The Spanish top seed came through a riveting clash on Rod Laver Arena 6-3, 3-6, 7-6 (8/6), 7-6 (7/4) to end the gallant hopes of the Australian.
It was billed as a grudge match after a series of bad-tempered exchanges last year when Nadal accused Kyrgios of lacking respect and the Australian fired back that the Spaniard was "super salty".
But Kyrgios struck a conciliatory tone beforehand, calling Nadal "a hell of a player", and it was played with respect from both sides.
Kyrgios was a match for the Spaniard in the second and for most of the third set, but his muscle-bound opponent always looked like the most likely winner once he got his nose back in front.
The Australian broke back when Nadal was serving for the match in the fourth set, however, reigniting the contest and bring the partisan Rod Laver Arena crowd back into the equation.
The world No. 1 just gritted his teeth and went again in the tie-break and he finally won when Kyrgios netted a forehand after three hours and 38 minutes.
"It was a very tough match, it seemed like I had control at the start but, against Nick, you are never in control," said Nadal, who hit 64 winners to Kyrgios' 50.
Kyrgios showed once again that he has all the skills to be a Grand Slam champion. He will console himself at having shown considerably more of the mental fortitude he will need to win major prizes at his home Open.
"When he is playing like today with this positive attitude, he gives a lot of positive things to our sport," said Nadal.
"He is one of the best talents we have. I like the Nick Kyrgios of this tournament."
The match was preceded by a ceremony honouring the 50th anniversary of the Grand Slam achieved by Margaret Court, once adored by Australians for her tennis prowess but now a more divisive figure because of her opposition to same-sex marriage.
Kyrgios has proved divisive himself due to his on-court antics, but earned praise for kickstarting tennis' bush-fire relief appeal. However, there was a more recent tragedy on his mind yesterday.
A basketball fanatic, Kyrgios appeared to be close to tears as he walked out on court sporting a LA Lakers shirt only a few hours after the death of Kobe Bryant, who was later described by Nadal as "one of the greatest sportsmen in history".
NEW WOMEN'S CHAMPION
In women's action, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova stayed aggressive in the face of a spirited fightback from former champion Angelique Kerber to move into the quarter-finals with a 6-7 (5/7), 7-6 (7/4), 6-2 win.
It will be the third quarter-final appearance in four years for the 28-year-old Russian and her win ensured Melbourne Park will crown a new women's singles champion on Saturday.
Pavlyuchenkova hit 71 winners, more than double of her opponent, against 36 unforced errors, but still needed 2hr 37 mins to see off the challenge from the former world No. 1.
Pavlyuchenkova will next face another multiple Grand Slam winner in Garbine Muguruza, who strolled past Kiki Bertens 6-3, 6-3. - REUTERS, AFP
AUSTRALIAN OPEN WOMEN'S SINGLES Q-FINALS
- Kenin (x14) v Jabeur, Barty (x1) v Kvitova (x7)
- Kontaveit (x28) v Halep (x4), Muguruza v Pavlyuchenkova (x30)
AUSTRALIAN OPEN MEN'S SINGLES Q-FINALS
- Sandgren v Federer (x3), Raonic (x32) v Djokovic (x2)
- Wawrinka (x15) v Zverev (x7), Nadal (x1) v Thiem (x5)