'Good for our sport': Nadal feud with Kyrgios takes uplifting turn

Andrew Reid

It was billed as the biggest grudge match of the Australian Open.

However, when the dust settled on Rafael Nadal's epic four-set win against Aussie adversary Nick Kyrgios, a level of mutual respect for one another was there for all to see.

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Despite a history of bad blood between the pair, the match was played out in good spirits as Nadal prevailed 6-3 3-6 7-6 (8-6) 7-6 (7-4) in a centre-court thriller on Monday night.

Kyrgios gave it his all during the rollercoaster fourth round clash, but Nadal provided a perfect illustration of why he’s the number one ranked player in the world.

Nadal’s relentless consistency and work rate ultimately proved big an obstacle for Kyrgios to overcome but the Spaniard said after the match that he liked what he saw from the Aussie firebrand.

"When he is playing like today with this positive factor, he gives a lot of positive things to our sport," Nadal said.

"I encourage him to keep working like that, because he is one of the highest talents."

When told about Nadal's comments during his post-match press conference, a self-reflective Kyrgios made a telling admission that demonstrated his growing maturity.

"I appreciate that for one, but I already know that," he told reporters.

"I've known that for the last four years, but the trouble for me is producing the same attitude over and over again.

"I feel good. Obviously today was horrendous with all the news (about Kobe Bryant's death), but I want to keep going in this direction for sure.

"I feel I've made progress as a human; a tennis player, I don't really care about as much."

It was as a tennis player on Monday night that Kyrgios took an enormous step forward as he became the first man at this tournament to take a set off Nadal.

Commentator and former player Todd Woodbridge was among those to praise Kyrgios for the incredible display.

“This is the best Grand Slam tournament I have seen him play,” Woodbridge said post-match.

“You’ve got to tip your hat to him. His competitive spirit was the best we have seen from him.

Rafael Nadal and Nick Kyrgios' Australian Open grudge match was played out in great spirits. Pic: Getty
Rafael Nadal and Nick Kyrgios' Australian Open grudge match was played out in great spirits. Pic: Getty

“We saw moments of frustration, but that was just because he wanted it and he wanted it more than we have ever seen.”

Tennis great Jim Courier said Kyrgios, who was a leading voice in tennis for the bushfire relief cause, should exit Melbourne Park with his head held high.

“He started the Aussie summer ranked 30 in the world. The projection is him leaving it with this loss at 20 in the world,” Courier said on Nine.

“A successful campaign, what about his leadership in bushfire relief and getting tennis involved and other sports.

“Congrats Nick, a tough loss tonight but a lot to be proud of.”

The world No.1's reward is a quarter-final meeting on Wednesday with fifth seed Dominic Thiem in what will be a sequel to the past two French Open finals won by the Spaniard.

"It was a very tough match. Since like in the beginning I was a little bit under control (but) against Nick you are never under control," Nadal said after denying Kyrgios by the exact same scoreline as he did last year at Wimbledon.

Kyrgios pays tribute to Kobe Bryant before the match

In a touching tribute to Kobe Bryant, Kyrgios entered into Rod Laver Arena in a LA Lakers No.8 singlet, seemingly in tears, and proudly warmed up in it.

The NBA tragic started sluggishly, dropping serve in the fourth game as Nadal parcelled up the opening set in 36 minutes.

Saturday night's four-hour, 26-minute epic against Karen Khachanov, the longest match of Kyrgios's career, looked to have taken a toll.

Nick Kyrgios paid an emotional tribute to Kobe Bryant before the match. Pic: Getty/Ch9
Nick Kyrgios paid an emotional tribute to Kobe Bryant before the match. Pic: Getty/Ch9

He had to stave off three more break points in the opening game of the second set, before suddenly exploding to life.

The fist-pumping underdog leapt into the air in jubilation after breaking Nadal with an inch-perfect lob and surging to a 4-1 lead.

The advantage was enough for Kyrgios to level the match at one set apiece.

Fighting desperately to become the first Australian to conquer the top seed at Melbourne Park since Mark Philippoussis brought down Pete Sampras in 1996, Kyrgios threw his body at everything as the pair went toe to toe.

But there wasn't a hint of bad blood, Nadal even giving Kyrgios the thumbs up at one point when the gallant home hope lay prone on Rod Laver Arena after an exhausting 24-shot rally.

Kyrgios saved his best serve for a linesperson, furiously questioning the umpire why the official was laughing after getting a call wrong that Kyrgios successfully challenged.

He saved his worst serve for the pivotal third-set tiebreaker, gifting Nadal a set point with a wild double-fault.

Nadal incredibly returned the favour, only for Kyrgios to net a backhand to hand the top seed the set.

The writing seemed on the wall when he dropped serve for a second time to fall behind 3-1 in the fourth set.

But he made one last stand, breaking Nadal when the Spaniard served for the match at 5-4 in the fourth set.

It was merely a stay of execution, Nadal again holding his nerve in the breaker to advance to his 41st grand slam quarter-final after three hours and 38 minutes.

"I just feel happy that I won one more match tonight, an important one," said the 19-times major champion.

"That gives me the possibility to keep going on this tournament. Possibility to play one more time on this amazing court and that makes me happy - what more can I say?"

A quarter-finalist in 2015, Kyrgios must console himself with a projected return to the world's top 20 for the first time since August of 2018 after bowing out in the fourth round for the second time in the past three years.

With agencies