The manner in which Nadal celebrated after a quick shake of the hands with Kyrgios — wagging his finger at his player’s box and acknowledging the crowd — showed what this victory had meant to him.
«He has been a tough opponent. When he wants to compete well, he is one of the toughest opponents you can face,» Nadal said.
On a sunny, warm afternoon, it didn’t take long for Kyrgios’ emotions to boil over, as he took aim at chair umpire Damien Dumusois over several matters, including the time Nadal took between points — and even why the Spaniard had been allowed a toilet break. Continual protestations led to a code violation for the Australian.
Nadal later said: «I have been aware of everything. I was just next to him. I don’t want to comment about that. Sometimes it is tough to see some things on court. He is a potential grand slam winner.»
During a first set that he lost 6-3, Kyrgios vented his frustration at Dumusois during the changeover at 3-0, questioning why he hadn’t been given the chance to challenge a call because the official’s eyes had been at the other end of the court. Kyrgios argued the umpire’s eyes should have been on him because he was the only player who would have called for a review.
Nadal controlled the first set with his power hitting and ability to work his opponent around but it was the time he took between points tha t infuriated the Australian.
At one point, Kyrgios — who prefers to race through points — was made to wait by Nadal, who has a reputation for using his allotted 25 seconds (or more) between points.
«I’m ready to serve, how long are we going to wait? I’m ready to serve the ball,” Kyrgios yelled at Dumusois.
When play resumed, it wasn’t long before there was another outburst.
“When he’s serving, he’s controlling the tempo,” Kyrgios said. “Why do I have to wait for my serve? Why am I waiting? Why?» he said.
“It’s too long between serves, it’s bulls—t It’s ridiculous.»
Nadal was granted a toilet break after the first set, prompting Kyrgios to deliver another verbal spray.
“What is this stuff, bro? Play the game, play the game. It’s stupid. You guys [umpires] are the worst of the lot, you’re so biased. Just kiss up to his bum, it’s a joke,» he said.
“He takes 40 seconds between every serve, is that within reason? No. So don’t tell me to play within reason. He doesn’t play within reason. It’s not fair. This is part of the sport, is it? What’s happening now is part of the sport?
“I’m serving next and he happens to take a toilet break now. Why? What’s going on, bro? What’s going on? It’s bulls—t.”
Kyrgios knows he is an entertainer — for good or bad — but in the second set it was his playmaking that initially told the tale.
There was a blazing forehand down the line to get the early break and a 2-0 lead but Nadal later broke back to leave the set 4-3. The Canberra lad then went at the chair umpire again, urging him to take action against Nadal’s time wasting.
“Tell him! Do it then, don’t say it, do it! He’s been doing it for 20 years,» Kyrgios said.
His patience wearing thin, Dumusois retorted that he would make any decision on his terms. Kyrgios refused to bite his tongue, and mocked the umpire about the «power» he had, prompting a code violation for unsportsmanlike conduct.
A touch volley at the net to bring up 30-40 and a Nadal forehand into the net ensured Kyrgios of another break and he survived to take the set.
The third set was gripping. Nadal glared at Kyrgios when he appeared to suggest a forceful forehand by the Australian in the ninth game had been aimed directly at him when the world No.2 was at the net. Nadal used his racquet as a shield and narrowly avoided being hit.
Nadal had the support of the crowd but the intensity of the contest was appreciated by all. Nadal held serve to take a 6-5 lead but Kyrgios, with his father watching on, held his nerve.
The tie-break added to the drama; Nadal taking a 6-3 lead before Kyrgios held serve to deny two set points. However, a booming cross-court forehand got the job done for Nadal, who leapt and punched the air in delight.
In a win-or-bust fourth set, each man held serve, often narrowly, but it was Nadal who got the mini break in the tie-break when a Kyrgios smash found the net. The Australian continued to fight but Nadal emerged the victor 7-3.
Jon Pierik is cricket writer for The Age. He also covers AFL and has won awards for his cricket and basketball writing.