Rafael Nadal left Nick Kyrgios frustrated and fuming with a 7-6 (7/0), 4-7, 6-4 victory in the quarter-finals of the Indian Wells WTA and ATP Masters on Thursday.
The unflappable Spaniard, who claimed a record 21st Grand Slam title at the Australian Open in January, improved to 19-0 in 2022 and notched his sixth win in nine career meetings against the mercurial Aussie, who surrendered the first set on a point penalty, raged at the chair umpire over the disruptive crowd and even had a testy exchange with actor Ben Stiller.
When it was all over Kyrgios flung his racquet once more in disgust, and it bounced toward a ballboy who had to dodge out of the way.
Kyrgios was irked that the unintentional incident garnered as much attention as his sometimes sparkling performance against Nadal, who admitted himself that he was lucky to pocket a first set that Kyrgios was two points away from winning.
Serving for the set at 5-4, Kyrgios climbed to 30-15 only to wind up broken by Nadal.
Nadal said there was luck involved — guessing right, for one, on a mighty Kyrgios serve up the T.
“I put the racquet there, and then I played a good point, and then he make mistake on the break point,” Nadal said.
“I feel lucky to win that set because returning with 5-4 against Nick, the chances to win that set are, let’s say, 10%, maybe less. But it happened. I played some good points there.”
The tiebreaker was all Nadal, and Kyrgios, who had already been warned for racquet abuse, gave it up when he was docked a point when a fan’s shout as he prepared to serve provoked a profanity-laced response.
Kyrgios was able to get back on terms, gaining the only break of the second set in the final game with a stylish backhand volley.
Unable to convert two break points in the second game of the third set, Kyrgios gave up a break with a double fault that saw Nadal seize a 4-3 lead.
It proved the only opening the Spaniard would need as he stepped up the pressure on Kyrgios’s serve and held his own with ease.
“That one hit pretty hard,” Kyrgios said. “I felt like, honestly, I was the one to end the streak. I felt like I was playing well. I felt like I did everything right in the first set that I planned to do.
“I mean, he’s too good, I guess. He played a few points well and he got out of it and that’s what he does. That’s what makes him great.”
Kyrgios insisted that he wasn’t hindered by his emotional response to the crowd — and his perception that umpire Carlos Bernardes wasn’t doing enough to control the disruptive spectators.
“It was an amazing atmosphere,” said Kyrgios. “I was focused. Just because I have an outburst doesn’t mean I’m not focused.”
Nadal, who hasn’t been shy about criticizing Kyrgios in the past, agreed.
“Nick is one of the most talented players on the tour without a doubt,” Nadal said. “When he’s playing with motivation and passion he’s one of the players that can damage your game and win against anyone.”
But Kyrgios was belligerent when pressed about the post-match racquet smash, saying it was unfair that the fact that he inadvertently sent it flying toward the ballboy would be remembered more than his quarter-final run.
“It was an accident,” he said. “I played three bloody good matches … and everyone will just remember that time where Kyrgios lost to Rafa at Indian Wells or the time that he threw the racquet.”
Nadal booked an intriguing semi-final showdown against 18-year-old compatriot Carlos Alcaraz, who beat defending champion Cameron Norrie of Britain 6-4, 6-3.
Alcaraz, who won the Rio de Janeiro title in February, is the second-youngest Indian Wells ATP semi-finalist ever after 17-year-old Andre Agassi in 1988.
The Spanish flag was still flying in the women’s draw as well after defending champion Paula Badosa beat Veronika Kudermetova 6-3, 6-2 to set up a semi-final clash with Greece’s Maria Sakkari.
Sakkari, coming off a run to the final in Saint Petersburg that helped propel her past Badosa into sixth in the world rankings, beat Kazakhstan’s Elena Rybakina 7-5, 6-4.
Badosa had lost all three of her prior meetings with Kudermetova, but she was in control throughout on a sunsplashed Stadium Court.
“I think it’s the court, it does magic with me,” Badosa said of the venue where she lifted the trophy in October, when the tournament was moved from its usual March slot because of the coronavirus pandemic.