10sBalls.com • TennisBalls.com

Tennis • 10sBalls Checks In From Australia • Federer Plays Today • Rafa To Play Kyrgios

By Alix Ramsay

It is the match that everyone wanted to see. It is the match that everyone always wants to see. We salivated over the prospect at Wimbledon and we are on tenterhooks now that is it happening in Melbourne: Rafa Nadal against Nick Kyrgios. And this time it is for a place in the Australian Open quarter-finals.

As is his wont, Rafa took his place in Monday’s showdown with the simplest of wins on Saturday by clumping Pablo Carreno Busta 6-1, 6-2, 6-4 – he makes it look so easy – but Nick’s five-set nail-biter on Saturday night had Melbourne Park rocking. Because that is what Nick can do in these parts.

To set the scene: Nick and Rafa don’t like each other, they make no bones about the fact that they don’t like each other and when they play, it gets personal.

At Wimbledon in the second round, Nick tried to decapitate Rafa with one shot and then refused to apologise. He was in no mood to make excuses afterwards, either. Rafa, for his part, could not care less what Nick did to him (as he said, he’s a pro player; he knows how to duck at just the right moment) but he was furious that someone else might have got caught in the crossfire and been injured as a result. There is not much love lost between them, then.

The stats show that Rafa leads their rivalry by four wins to three. But it is so much more complicated than that.

Nick doesn’t like Rafa but he respects him. He respects him because Rafa is everything Nick isn’t and Nick would love to know how Rafa does it. As he pointed out after his four-set loss to the Spaniard in SW19, Rafa concentrates for every single point, he plays it as if his life depended upon it and he does it point after point, game after game, match after match. Month in, month out. And Nick takes his hat off to that level of focus.

Then again, the Nick on show at this Australian Open is a different beast to the one who has frustrated and infuriated his followers in years gone by.

It was Nick who bounced Tennis Australia into the Rally for Relief for the bushfire appeal, it was Nick who first volunteered to give cash for every ace served in order to help those affected by the fires. And it was Nick who turned around and discovered that everyone in both the men’s and women’s locker rooms was right behind him.

Where normally he comes to Melbourne Park hog-tied by his own expectations and cramped by the expectations of others, he has come to the Open this year as a leader. He has a cause to play for and when he steps on court, he feels a new love from the crowd. If he faffs about a bit with a few tweeners, no one berates him, especially if he follows that up with a handful of aces (they raise cash for the appeal). The result is that he has a new focus. That spells danger for anyone in his path.

It was – just – too much for Karen Khachanov on Saturday night. For four hours and 26 minutes, the Russian hung on but he could not stem the tidal wave of emotion flowing down from the stands forever. Nick reached the fourth round 6-2, 7-6(5), 6-7(6), 6-7(7), 7-6(10-8), winning a match he thought was possibly the best of his career and one that he thought he was possibly going to lose, before tumbling to the ground in sheer exhaustion and relief.

He had been ahead in the first set when he landed badly after a serve and felt something go at the top of his left hamstring. A medical time out later, he was back in business but when match points in the third and the fourth sets went begging, he thought it was curtains. That was when his “team” helped him over the line.

By that he meant the crew led by Lleyton Hewitt at the side of the court and the thousands who had packed into the Melbourne Arena – $20 ground pass holders who had come early to grab their seat and waited patiently until 7pm for the start of an Australia Day weekend epic – and he thanked them warmly. He really is feeling the love. And it is making him a better player.

So now there is Rafa to face. In his third round against Gilles Simon, Nick had made fun of Rafa’s tics and twitches and laughed long and loud when Simon did likewise. But when it came to teeing up the fourth round in his on-court interview, he was not going to be drawn into a slanging match. He knows what awaits him on Monday and he knows his back will be to the wall. No trash talk, no pouring of petrol on the fire. This time, Nick was respectful and he was ready for what was coming.

“He has a winning record against me,” Kyrgios pointed out as Jim Courier tried to make the most of Nick’s three previous wins. “Whatever happens between us, he’s an amazing player. He arguably the greatest of all time.

“I’m super excited honestly. Playing one of the greatest tennis players on centre court at your own slam, it’s pretty damn cool. I don’t really dislike him. I don’t know him at all. Hell of a tennis player. Don’t know him as a person. I’m sure he’s OK.

“There’s a layer of respect that we both have for each other. Doesn’t necessarily mean we like each other, but… We’re going to go out there and give contrasting styles and personalities.”

Those words will have not gone unnoticed in the Nadal camp. Rafa’s respect for his opponents is well known but his respect for the sport is the stuff of legend – and it is what has kept him and Nick apart all these years. He does not think Nick is a bad man but when he oversteps the mark and hurts the sport, Raf will simply not forgive him. According to Rafa, Nick is at liberty to muck up his own chances with his behaviour but he is not allowed to show disrespect to the sport itself.

“It’s clear, of course, that when he does stuff that in my opinion is not good, I don’t like,” Rafa said. “When he plays good tennis and he shows passion for this game, he is a positive player for our tour, and I want my tour bigger, not smaller.

“So the players who make the tour bigger are important for the tour. When he’s ready to play his best tennis and play with passion, is one of these guys. When he’s doing the other stuff, of course I don’t like.”

But Nick is not doing the other stuff at the moment; he is playing with passion and he is paying well. And apart from the issue with what he describes as his “left bum cheek”, he is ready to rumble in the next round.  

By close of play on Monday, we will have learned whether Nick really has grown into his new status as Australia’s great hope or whether Rafa is in a position to win his second Australian Open title and complete his second career Grand Slam. And that is why everyone has been waiting for this match since the draw was made.


If you enjoyed story please sign up for our mailing list or follow us on:

Facebook | 10sBalls.com

Twitter | @10sBalls_com

Instagram | @10sballs_com

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *