Nick Kyrgios outclassed Alexander Zverev in the battle of tennis’ next-gen leaders to set up another showcourt blockbuster with Novak Djokovic at the Indian Wells Masters.
As legends Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal booked an Australian Open final rematch in the so-called quarter of death, Kyrgios wowed fans with some audacious shot-making in a 6-3 6-4 triumph over Zverev.
Australia’s No.15 seed broke Zverev – who, at 19, is the youngest player in the world’s top 20 – three times while being untroubled on his own serve throughout the 72-minute encounter.
Until last week, the German teenager had been the only player to beat Federer in 2017.
But he had to play second fiddle to Kyrgios in their much-anticipated first-time meeting on Wednesday (AEDT).
Kyrgios stamped his authority with breaks early in both sets.
Rarely hitting top gear, the 21-year-old struck six aces, won 84 per cent of first-serve points and broke Zverev for a third time to close out the match.
“I thought I just competed well,” Kyrgios said.
“It was always going to be a tough match. He’s been playing great tennis and on the rise ever since juniors.
“He’s got a big game. I was happy with my performance.”
Next up for the 21-year-old is Djokovic, who needed more than two-and-a-quarter hours to subdue Juan Martin del Potro 7-5 4-6 6-1 in the late match.
Kyrgios upstaged Djokovic two weeks ago in Acapulco to join Australian Davis Cup captain Lleyton Hewitt as the only other player to conquer Federer, Nadal and Djokovic in his first-ever meeting with each of the grand slam giants.
Eerily, Kyrgios also beat Djokovic the day after the Serb battled for more than two hours and over three sets to see off del Potro in Mexico.
The winner of that fourth-round match will take on either Federer or Nadal, who will clash for a 36th time after posting contrasting victories earlier on Wednesday (AEDT).
Nadal continued his career-long dominance of Fernando Verdasco, dismissing his fellow Spaniard 6-3 7-5 before Federer denied local hope Steve Johnson 7-6 (7-3) 7-6 (7-4) in a tight affair without a service break.
“Roger has the talent to do very difficult things that look easy,” Nadal said as he set his sights on atoning for his gut-wrenching five-set loss to Federer in Melbourne.
Federer, turning 36 in August, said he craved challenges like facing Nadal.
“Australia helps me a little bit, but I’m still in the comeback and I try to see it really as another opportunity to build upon something for the rest of the season,” he said.
“Regardless of Australia, winning or losing, I’m going to try to go out there and try to play free again. I think it’s really important.”
In other results, fourth seed Kei Nishikori advanced past Gilles Muller 6-2 6-2 while there were mixed results for the Americans on court.
Australian Open semi-finalist Grigor Dimitrov blew four match points in his 3-6 6-3 7-6 (9-7) loss to Jack Sock and Taylor Fritz was knocked out 6-4 3-6 6-3 by Malek Jaziri.
But Donald Young upset 14th seed Lucas Pouille 6-4 1-6 6-3.