Wimbledon 2019: After months of shadow fighting, Rafael Nadal and Nick Kyrgios to engage in real duel
Nadal will do what Nadal does best, hang in there, look for a way through. Meanwhile, Kyrgios could fire a 130-kph ace with as much panache as he would an underarm serve if he sees Nadal lurking too far behind the baseline
A dialed in Kyrgios might spell trouble for the third seed, who is still finding his feet on grass.
Kyrgios’ breakout moment had come five years ago, when he defeated Nadal in four lively sets in the Round of 16.
Nadal will do what Nadal does best, hang in there, look for a way through.
Ever since the Wimbledon draw came out last week, tennis fans have been eagerly anticipating a second-round clash between Rafael Nadal and Nick Kyrgios. Not just because, as the Aussie said, they are "polar opposites of each other," but also because in the era of nice, theirs is a rivalry with some spice.
Kyrgios' breakout moment had come five years ago when he defeated Nadal in four lively sets in the Round of 16. Then precocious teenager he has since grown up to be somewhat of an enfant terrible, verbally attacking fans, umpires, photographers and opponents. This summer, he has been largely in the news for his poor court manners and the feud with Nadal.
It all began in March when Nick met Rafa in Acapulco. Kyrgios attempted an underarm serve, complained to the umpire about Nadal taking too much time between points and saved three match points to pull off an incredible 3-6, 7-6, 7-6 win over the top seed. In turn, Nadal observed that Kyrgios "lacks respect for his rival, fans and himself." Kyrgios, with a drama for flair, called Nadal "super salty", Aussie slang for a sore loser.
Since then, Kyrgios has kept the war of words going. On Tuesday, after his five-set win over fellow Aussie Jordan Thompson in the opening round, Kyrgios admitted that there was a barrier between the two. "I get along with people, some people I don't get along with," Kyrgios summarised.
It is indeed difficult to see the Aussie, who threatens to tank his talent, getting along someone like with Nadal, who believes in wringing out every ounce of energy on the court. While Nadal is the ultimate competitor in tennis, no one has been pulled up for ‘not trying’ more than Kyrgios by the ATP.
One can almost picture the 6'4 hunched Aussie in a perpetual couldn’t-care-less shrug about his tennis. But something about the playing the big guys gets his competitive juices going. He has a 3-3 win-loss record against Nadal and is 2-0 up against Djokovic: the two were his prime targets during a sensational podcast this spring where he also took digs at Nadal’s uncle and former coach Toni Nadal and Spaniard Fernando Verdasco (Kyrgios has a 2-0 record against him as well).
After beating Nadal in Acapulco, Kyrgios said that he had been dealing with knee injuries and was down the previous night with food poisoning. He apparently only stayed on court and completed the match to make sure he wasn’t booed off. "Just the way I competed, I left it all out there," the 24-year-old Aussie said. It is almost paradoxical to what we know about the chair-throwing Kyrgios.
Only on Tuesday, at possibly the biggest tennis tournament in the world, Kyrgios almost once again psyched himself out. He got into a heated discussion with the umpire over several line calls and also over a photographer apparently carrying a "camera as big as a tennis racquet", served underarm at set point in the third set – which he ultimately closed out in a tie-break and on his eighth set point, got medical treatment for his lower back, hit a 'tweener volley.' He endeared and enraged fans once again, hitting 23 aces, 63 winners and making 53 unforced errors, as he won 7-6 (7-4) 3-6 7-6 (12-10) 0-6 6-1 in three hours and 26 minutes.
But right after, he struck a determined note once again.
"I can't wait to get out there," said Kyrgios of his upcoming clash with Nadal. After months of shadow fighting, the two will engage in a real duel on Thursday.
"He's one of the greatest tennis players of all time. I go into that match as an unbelievable underdog. I know if I play the right type of tennis, I can have success against him," said Kyrgios. "I have to come with the right attitude and be willing to fight."
A dialled in Kyrgios might spell trouble for the third seed, who is still finding his feet on grass.
Nadal opted to rest after winning his 12th French Open title rather than playing any of the Wimbledon tune-up events. He overcame a few anxious moments right at the start during his first round contest against Japanese qualifier Yuichi Sugita before winning 6-3, 6-1, 6-3.
However, Nadal refused to add any fuel to the Kyrgios fight. "I'm too old for this stuff," said the 33-year-old Spaniard when quizzed about his recent history with Kyrgios. "I am not going to be in a fight with anybody. It (second round clash with Kyrgios) is another challenge in this amazing place. Super tough one for a second round. I play against top talent, a very dangerous player when he wants to play tennis."
Nadal will know from experience. Kyrgios was only 19 and raked 144 in the world when he overturned the odds to take out the two-time Wimbledon champion in the fourth round in 2014. That makes him the lowest-ranked player Nadal has lost to at SW19.
Even though the Aussie hasn't quite delivered on that early promise, what is clear is that on his good days his talent talks louder than his mouth. He can control the game with his big slinging serve and keep the opponent guessing with his languid power and unconventional tactics. An instinctive (Kyrgios even believes 'uncoachable') player who seems to have a huge array of shots at his disposal, the Aussie is extremely difficult to plan for.
Nadal will do what Nadal does best, hang in there, look for a way through. Meanwhile, Kyrgios could fire a 130-kph ace with as much panache as he would an underarm serve if he sees Nadal lurking too far behind the baseline. He could power winners or diabolically hack at the ball. Or he could simply not turn up.
Second seed Nadal won through 7-5, 1-6, 6-3 in 2hr 49min against the defending champion in the 57th career showdown between the pair.
Federer begins his comeback-proper on Swiss home soil in Geneva on Tuesday, with the 39-year-old legend starting a run of tournaments including the French Open, Halle, Wimbledon and then the Tokyo Olympics.
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