Nadal won 6-3, 3-6, 7-6, 7-6 but so much of the three hours that it took were spent dealing with Kyrgios’s antics, his constant complaining to the umpire and, at one point, dodging a bullet of a ball directed straight at him.
The difference was that Nadal kept his cool – he may have been angry but he kept it to himself – and just got on with the business of trying to find a way to win. There are so many times, so many matches, when Kyrgios just doesn’t. That was the message that Nadal tried to get across to the young hothead with all the talent.
“He’s a very top, talented player. But there is a lot of important things that you need to do to become a champion,” said Nadal. “He has a lot of good ingredients. But, of course, there remains an important one sometimes, and that is the love, the passion for this game. Without really loving this game that much, is difficult to achieve important things. Anyway, with his talent and with his serve, he can win a Grand Slam, of course. He has the talent to do it. Is true that things can be completely different for him if he wants to play all the matches the same way that he try today.”
The match had been built up from the moment the draw came out last Friday. Not only was it a rematch of their epic battle five years ago, the match that launched Kyrgios as an international star, but there had been bad blood between the two men in the weeks leading up to Wimbledon. Kyrgios had taken a pop at Nadal in a podcast, describing the Spaniard as “salty”. In response, Nadal had accused Kyrgios of being “disrespectful”. That set the tone.
Kyrgios’s antics in the first couple of sets ramped up the tension to another level. His between-the-legs shot in the second game started it, the first underarm serve – an ace – fanned the flames. Nadal looked quietly furious and refused to look at the Australian, refused to get involved in the circus. But then in the third set, Kyrgios fired the ball straight at Nadal – and that changed everything.
“When he hit the ball like this, is dangerous,” Nadal said. “Is not dangerous for me, is dangerous for a line referee, dangerous for the crowd. When you hit the ball like this, you don’t know where the ball goes.
“I know he’s a big talented player, but I am a professional player, too. I know when you hit this kind of ball, the ball can go anywhere. This time the ball went in, almost hit me, no problem. I am professional, so I know how to avoid this.
“But another time, the ball goes straight to the back. So have been dangerous moment for the line umpire.”
At that point, the match was moving towards Kyrgios – his serve was impregnable and Nadal was struggling to make any headway. But when he was almost hit by that ball, he glared at Kyrgios long and hard. When the world No 2 went on to win that game, he turned to the crowd and geed them up and they responded. Nadal had made his statement: this was his court and Kyrgios was not welcome here.
Nadal had never won a tiebreak against Kyrgios in six previous attempts but, fired up with fury as well as straightforward competitive edge, he was not to be stopped again.
When he leaped into the air having won the third set, the whole atmosphere changed. Kyrgios kept his mouth shut and his tennis orderly while Nadal pushed and pushed for an opening. He finally got it in the fourth-set tiebreak and a meeting with Jo-Wilfried Tsonga tomorrow was his.