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10sBalls | Tennis News • Rafa Beats Kyrgios In Australia • Nick Wears His Kobe Shirt On Court

By Alix Ramsay

It was the match that Australia had been waiting for for many a long year but, alas, it was the result they had feared. No matter, it showed promise for the future, a promise that seemed to have withered and all but died over the past couple of seasons.

For the second match in a row in Melbourne, Nick Kyrgios played hard from first ball till last, he fought hard from first ball till last and, save for a smashed racket and a running conversation with himself, he focused fully from first ball till last. But still he lost to Rafael Nadal 6-3, 3-6, 7-6, 7-6.

Monday night’s much anticipated showdown was a carbon copy of their meeting at Wimbledon: the score was almost identical – this time Rafa had to play one more point in the third and fourth set tiebreaks than he did at Wimbledon but other than that, it was the same – and the only missing ingredient in Melbourne was the sniping.

Kyrgios had made no bones about his feelings for Rafa prior to the Wimbledon match (he really didn’t like the world No.1) but as he made his way to this fourth round encounter, Australia’s top man was showing due respect for the 19-time grand slam champion.

In response, Rafa had proffered a public olive branch. When Nick shows no respect to the sport and its history, Rafa is clear: “I don’t like”. But when Nick plays his heart out, Rafa thinks he is one of the most talented players on the planet. And after three hour and 38 minutes of brutal hitting, Rafa was full of praise for his beaten foe.

“What can I say about Nick?” Rafa said. “When he is playing like today with this positive attitude, he gives a gives a lot of positive things to our sport so I encourage him to keep working like this because he is one of the highest talents that we have on our tour. And I like the Nick Kyrgios during the whole of this tournament.”

Just as at Wimbledon, the match was on a knife edge through all four sets. Rafa seemed to be in charge at the start, Kyrgios unleashed a barrage of winners to level the scores, everyone was tight in the third set and Rafa just managed to close it out in the fourth. Both men knew that their chances would be few and, when they came, they had to be converted. But how?

Rafa’s plan was to try and do something to stop that Howitzer of a serve that Kyrgios launches with such deceptive ease. Worse, he will use it on a first or a second serve – it is a weapon to treated with due reverence. And Rafa was ever so reverential. He was reverential from 20 feet behind the baseline whenever Kyrgios stood up to wallop down another delivery.

“I know Nick has an amazing serve and he is able to hit the spots all the time,” Rafa said. “When you are too inside the court, I feel he can go big with the second serve too, you don’t know what to do. You don’t know what to expect: a bomb on the second serve or a kick.

“So, being back I put him in a position that he doesn’t see that sweet spot for the second serve. He just tried one or two during the whole match and in other matches, when you are returning more inside the court, he is going more for the ace in the second serve. So, I was trying just to give myself time and to put balls in and try to play an aggressive game from the baseline. But it is true that even like this, it have been so difficult to have breaks tonight.”

Everyone knows that Nick got his coaching manual from Flourish and Botts bookshop in Diagon Alley and that he bought some of his more outrageous shots from Gambol and Japes Wizarding Joke Shop, but this was a night when both men were making Harry Potter look like an amateur magician at a kids’ party. The touch, the invention and the power that Nick conjured up out of nothing was remarkable. What was more remarkable still was that Rafa was matching him ridiculous winner for ridiculous winner. Not the normal Rafa winners, those huge, heavy shots that leave the opponent flapping at thin air. No, these were the fakes, the dinks, the volleys – call that a trick shot, Nick? Have a look at this…

But it was still mighty close. A bout of nerves cost Rafa his lead in the fourth set while Nick sat in his chair before the 10th game of that set muttering to himself “one more push, one more push, one more push”. He pushed, Rafa cracked and it was all square again.

“I played bad game,” Rafa shrugged. “I was more nervous at that moment and I accept, no? I am enough humble to accept that sometimes I am nervous and I can have mistakes. That’s what happened in the 5-4.

“I can lose, I can win, but I cannot play with more nerves than what I should. I did it already once, and I don’t want to repeat that. I think I didn’t. In the 6-5 I played a great game with my serve. In the tiebreak, I think I was serving well. Nothing to say. I think I played a solid tiebreak.”

As for Nick, he was shattered that he had lost but he was pleased enough with what he had achieved over the course of four rounds. He had worked hard and he had kept his head. That Rafa was so complimentary about him was just an added bonus, but as Nick pointed out, the idea that if he plays with the same attitude that he showed in the Rod Laver Arena, he can become a world beater is hardly news.

“I appreciate it,” he said of Rafa’s comments. “But I already know that. I’ve known that for the last four years. But the trouble for me is being able to actually just produce the same attitude over and over again.

“Hopefully I can keep doing it. I’m just taking it day by day, trying to be positive, just bring positive vibes.”

That said, Monday night was another step forward. Maybe when he comes back to Melbourne Park next year, he can give the crowd the result they want as well as the performance they have waited for. Or maybe not. No one ever knows with Nick.

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