Kyrgios ‘super excited’ to face Nadal at Australian Open after marathon win over Khachanov

Hannah Wilks:

Nick Kyrgios battled to a four-hour, 24-minute victory over Karen Khachanov at the Australian Open, but says next opponent Rafael Nadal is ‘a different beast altogether’.

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Kyrgios said he was ‘super excited’ to write the next chapter in his rivalry with Nadal on Monday. The fourth-round clash will be Kyrgios’s reward for what he called ‘one of the craziest matches’ he had ever won.

Played on Kyrgios’s favoured Australian Open court, the Melbourne Arena, a partisan crowd roared Kyrgios on as he battled for over four hours to subdue Khachanov.

Kyrgios raced to a 4-2 lead in the first set but took an off-court medical time-out for what he referred to, after the match, as a pain in ‘his left bum-cheek’. It did not stop him from taking a 6-2, 7-6(5) lead, and the Australian even led Khachanov – who had played an extremely lengthy five-set match against Sweden’s Mikael Ymer in the previous round – by a break in the third set.

The world no. 26 looked to be headed for a surprisingly straightforward victory. But a sloppy game allowed Khachanov back in, and the Russian broke back, saved match point on his serve and took the third set 7-6(6).

Kyrgios argues with the umpire (AAP Image/Lukas Coch)

When Kyrgios bloodied his hand after hitting an unnecessary (albeit spectacular) diving winner at 4-4 in the fourth and immediately got into an argument with the umpire, who gave him a time violation not realizing Kyrgios’s hand was bleeding and he was trying to keep the ballkid from touching his bloodied towel, the stage looked set for a classic Kyrgios meltdown. Khachanov saved another match point in the ensuing tie-break by hitting a smash off Kyrgios’s lob attempt, and took the fourth set 7-6(7) to send the match to five sets.

For the second time in two days, the Australian Open played host to a five-set thriller featuring a home player which went all the way down to the wire. Like Roger Federer and John Millman on Friday, Kyrgios and Khachanov found themselves in a decisive ten-point super tie-break to decide the match. Kyrgios raced to 3-0 but soon found himself pegged back on serve after a careless backhand.

From that point on, the tie-break saw some of the most spectacular winners that the two shotmakers had produced all match. Khachanov edged ahead 8-7 with a mini-break to put himself two points from the win, just as Millman had been on Friday; but Kyrgios nailed a backhand down the line winner to retrieve the mini-break, and a backhand down the net from Khachanov gave Kyrgios his third match point – and for the first time it was on his own serve.

That was all Kyrgios needed to seal the win and the Australian fell flat on his back as the crowd went crazy.

Afterwards, he said:

‘That was definitely one of the craziest matches I’ve ever been a part of. It was insane.

‘Had a match point in the third, a match point in the fourth. Then 8-7 down, I had all the thoughts. I thought I was going to lose. I was thinking about everything… It was crazy.’

Kyrgios looks exhausted after winning the match (Photo by Corinne Dubreuil/ABACAPRESS.COM)

The lengthy match clearly gives Nadal, who has yet to drop a set, the physical advantage ahead of Monday’s fourth-round clash, but Kyrgios insisted he was looking forward to the match.

‘I’m super excited, honestly. Playing one of the greatest tennis players on centre court at your own Slam, it’s pretty damn cool.

‘I’ve got a lot of time between now and then. Obviously, it’s going to be another physical battle. Nothing comes easy with him. He had a relatively routine match today, so he’s going to be feeling good. I’m looking forward to it. That’s why you play.’

Kyrgios and Nadal have had a complicated and not always amicable history. As a little-known wildcard, Kyrgios shocked Nadal in the fourth round of Wimbledon in 2014 and has gone on to win two of their subsequent six encounters, including a particularly acrimonious one in Acapulco last spring, during which Kyrgios pulled out an underarm serve to try to take advantage of Nadal’s deep returning position.

After the match, Nadal said that Kyrgios ‘lacks respect for the crowd, his opponent and towards himself’. In response, Kyrgios called Nadal ‘super salty’ and claimed he had meant to hit Nadal with a fiercely-struck forehand during their Wimbledon match, which Nadal won in four sets.

Kyrgios has already courted controversy during this tournament by doing a widely-shared and instantly recognizable of Nadal’s characteristic pre-serve ritual in response to being given a time violation during his match against Gilles Simon. (Simon later did a similar impression.)

Kyrgios played down questions about the animosity, saying:

‘There’s a layer of respect we have for each other. We’re just going to go out there and give contrasting styles and personalities.’

Asked about his relatively successful head-to-head against Nadal – he trails 3-4, but leads 2-1 on hard courts – Kyrgios said:

‘Ever since juniors I think I’ve enjoyed playing lefties. I think I know what kind of game plan I need to bring to be successful against them. Rafa’s a different beast altogether.

‘I mean, I kind of know his patterns, everybody kows his patterns but you can’t do anything about them. Federer knows his patterns, everybody knows his patterns, but he executes them at the highest level.

‘But I’m not even thinking about that match to be honest. Tonight’s match hasn’t even sunk in. I’m still dealing with a bunch of emotions.’