Australian Open champ Rafael Nadal has overcome Nick Kyrgios in a drama-filled Indian Wells Masters quarter-final, continuing his perfect start to 2022.
The 21-time major winner prevailed 7-6 (7-0) 5-7 6-4 in the California desert, keeping his cool during a typically turbulent encounter with the Australian.
Kyrgios battled not only the Spaniard but his own temperament, the crowd and umpire Carlos Bernardes during the two hour 45 minute marathon, smashing three racquets on the way.
With Hollywood star Ben Stiller in the stands, Kyrgios rebuked one fan by asking them “are you good at tennis? why are you speaking?” before pointing to Stiller, saying, “I don’t tell him how to act”.
“I’m just asking for a little bit of respect,” Kyrgios said later.
“When you’re a spectator and you’re watching professionals play tennis, you should just be quiet … like, just sit and enjoy the show.”
The tense third-set exchange came before Kyrgios dropped his serve in the seventh game, allowing Nadal a path to victory.
The Indian Wells crowd could have hardly asked for more entertainment.
Wildcard Kyrgios, the world No.132, made a mockery of his lowly ranking from the outset, breaking Nadal first and lengthening a run of 30 straight service holds at the tournament.
The 26-year-old fumed as he missed his chance to serve out the first set, smashing two racquets – handing the second to a child.
After forcing a tiebreak, he lost it to love, handing Nadal the set with a code violation for an audible obscenity fired towards an abusive crowd member.
“When you do that I need to penalise you,” umpire Bernardes told Kyrgios, who shook his head as he replied “unbelievable”.
In the second set, the circus atmosphere drew another intervention from Bernardes, who told one man: “There are 10,000 people who want to watch tennis here and you’re the only one who wants to scream like crazy. Please.”
Kyrgios gathered his composure, closing out service games as he led 6-5.
At change of ends, he kept engaging Bernardes on the raucous crowd, saying: “You see how it affects the players? You don’t protect the players from any of that stuff.”
After levelling his head, he also levelled the match with another piece of magic, slipping on his way to reach a drop shot before scrambling an overhead to win the second set.
The momentum was Kyrgios’ in the third, with Nadal showing uncharacteristic sloppiness in the opening games.
That all changed as the Australian’s head appeared turned by the crowd during the final games and he smashed another racquet after shaking hands with Nadal.
It bounced up and away, nearly striking a ball boy standing at the back of the court.
“It landed a metre from my foot and skidded and nearly hit him,” Kyrgios said. “I’m human. Things happen like that. Obviously it was a very misfortunate bounce. I think if I did that a million times over it wouldn’t have gone that way.”
Kyrgios acknowledged Nadal’s mental toughness in swinging the match his way.
“He played a few points well and he got out of it and that’s what he does,” Kyrgios said. “That’s what makes him great.”
Nadal said he didn’t see Kyrgios toss his racket after the match.
“I think Nick had a great attitude during the whole match in terms of fighting spirit, and of course he has his personality, his character,” Nadal said.
“Sometimes he does things that I don’t like, but I respect because of different character, different kind of points of view, and different kind of education.”
Nadal’s victory was his 19th in succession this year, a run that has brought ATP titles in Melbourne and Acapulco and a record-breaking 21st slam at the Australian Open.
He marches on at Indian Wells, where he can improve to be world No.3 with a title, and will play compatriot Carlos Alcaraz in the semi-finals.
Kyrgios is projected to leap 31 places to be No.101 by week’s end.