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Uncharacteristic Nick Kyrgios pulls victory from jaws of defeat to stun World No 2 Rafael Nadal at Mexican Open

In fine form and top fitness, and with a Grand Slam final appearance already under his belt in the first two months of the season, one might not be remiss in believing Rafael Nadal was unbeatable. Up against Nick Kyrgios, who has been in and out of form throughout his career and has struggled with injuries this season, the pendulum swung firmly in favour of the Spaniard. This year, Kyrgios has been treated for a knee injury at the Australian Open, and had played a total of six singles matches across tournaments, coming into the pair’s match at Acapulco.

Nadal, on the other hand, has had a spectacular season already. A new, revamped game and service have meant that Nadal breezed through the competition in the Australian Open this year, and it was no wonder that he went into Thursday’s match as the favourite.

 Uncharacteristic Nick Kyrgios pulls victory from jaws of defeat to stun World No 2 Rafael Nadal at Mexican Open

Nick Kyrgios celebrates after defeating Rafael Nadal at the Mexican Open. AP Photo

Thursday’s match marked the pair’s first meeting in two years; the last time they played each other was at the finals of the hard court ATP 500 China Open in Beijing, where Nadal took a searing 6-2, 6-1 win. Interestingly, it was their 6th meeting against each other, with the previous head-to-head record standing 3-2 in favour of Nadal.

Nadal began the match in typically dominant fashion, remaining unbroken in the first set and looking firmly in control. Kyrgios, in contrast, looked weary, tired from the outset and far from being in form. Although it did not look as though he was tanking the match, as he has done on previous occasions, Kyrgios did not look to be putting in much of an effort.

The 31-year-old had not played a tournament since his loss to Novak Djokovic at the Australian Open in January, he still looked in fine form to begin the match, and were anyone to predict the results based on the first set, the match would have gone firmly to Nadal.

The first set was played in typical Nadal fashion — the Spaniard sticking mostly to the baseline, playing fast, powerful shots that forced Kyrgios to scramble. The Australian looked to be struggling to move at some points during the first set, and was tired, lacklustre and neither his body nor mind seemed to be in the game. Nadal, on the other hand, was raring to go, and went unbroken to take the first. He was completely in the zone and lost only four points on serve as a couple of wayward volleys from Kyrgios in the end, would cost him the set.

Indeed, after dropping the first set, Kyrgios expressed his desire to retire from the game, telling the linesman, “I feel sick... If I retire, the media will blow it up and I’ll be booed off the court. I’ll try to play a couple more games.”

Starting off with the desire to play “a couple more games”, Kyrgios became quickly more energised as the second set progressed. He took a 2-1 lead in the set, already looked more comfortable, moving more freely, and producing more powerful shots than he had in the first. The Australian hit a couple of great forehands down the line, but with power also came precision: Kyrgios seemed to know exactly where to aim to flummox Nadal, which he did with aplomb. Coming up to the net and playing attacking tennis from the baseline, Kyrgios sealed the second set in a tiebreak.

Interestingly, while Nadal is known on the circuit for his mental strength, in Thursday’s match, it was what would prove to be his undoing. After a solid second set fightback from Kyrgios, Nadal again was resurgent in the tiebreaker, gliding smoothly on serve and taking the mini-break for a 4-2 lead. That left Kyrgios scrambling in an attempt to win; the Australian attempted an underarm serve which although a legal shot in tennis is generally frowned upon. In this instance, however, it proved to be inconsequential, although a number of fans attempted to justify the action by pointing out how far behind the baseline Nadal had been standing throughout the match awaiting Kyrgios’ serve.

Down three match points in the final set, Kyrgios — or at the very least spectators of the match, may have thought it was done and dusted, but Nadal appeared then to lose focus entirely. At match point, 6-5, Nadal double faulted to give Kyrgios a 7-6 lead — following up with a groundstroke that went long, as Kyrgios fell to his knees.

Despite having been booed and struggling throughout the match, and despite having poor overall stats in the match, it was Kyrgios who emerged on top. For context, Nadal won 10 more points overall than Kyrgios, generated 10 break points, and made 17 unforced errors to Kyrgios’ staggering 49.

Losing after holding triple match point, an incensed Spaniard declared that Kyrgios “lacked respect for the game, the crowd, and himself”.

For a player who has frequently tanked — or at the very least come close to tanking — matches, struggled with form, fitness, and commitment to the game, Thursday’s match was not just one to watch for fans, but one that Kyrgios himself will want to look upon when he feels he lacks motivation. Thursday, if anything, was one finish that was truly inspired.

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Updated Date: Feb 28, 2019 23:36:47 IST

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