There is no love lost between Rafael Nadal and Nick Kyrgios, and the two men will rekindle their rivalry when they go head-to-head in the fourth round of the Australian Open on Monday night.
The seeds of this rivalry were sown at Wimbledon in 2014, when Kyrgios, then an unknown teenage wildcard, stunned the great champion, Nadal in a monumental second round upset.
They have gone on to face off six more times after that, with Nadal owning a slight 4-3 advantage in their career meetings. Two of those matches were in 2019- the year the rivalry developed into a full-blown feud.
The first flash point was in Acapulco, where Kyrgios scored an epic 3-6 7-6 7-6 victory over the Spaniard. Unhappy at some of Kyrgios’ antics and behaviour, Nadal admonished his opponent during his post-match press conference, accusing the Aussie of lacking respect.
“[He’s] a player who has the talent to win a Grand Slam and be fighting for the top positions of the rankings”, Nadal said.
“I don’t think he’s a bad guy, not at all. I think he’s a good guy, but what he lacks is a little respect for the public, for his rival, and also for himself. I think he should improve that. Today we have to say congratulations, he was good and he won.”
Kyrgios was fairly diplomatic in his response, saying he wasn’t going to listen to the Spaniard.
“I’m different, Rafa is different. He can focus on what he needs to do.” Kyrgios said. “He doesn’t know the journey I’ve been through; he doesn’t know me. So I’m not going to listen at all”.
“That’s the way I play. That’s the way he plays, he’s very slow between points and the rule of the book says you have to play at the speed of the server. But Rafa has the speed every time”.
However, there was no holding back from Kyrgios during a podcast interview in May, when he launched into Nadal, calling the Spaniard a sore loser, and left a bit on Nadal’s uncle, Toni as well.
“When he wins, it’s fine. He won’t say anything bad, he’ll credit the opponent, ‘He was a great player’. But as soon as I beat him, it’s just like, ‘He has no respect for me, my fans and no respect to the game’,” Kyrgios said on the No Challenges Remaining podcast.
“It’s not a good look for you, I feel. And then uncle Toni came out saying, ‘He lacks education’. I’m like, ‘Bra (brother), I did 12 years at school, you idiot… I’m very educated. I understand that you’re upset I beat your family again’.”
As fate would have it, both men would be in combat under two months later at Wimbledon. Naturally, the match received the big build up, and it certainly didn’t disappoint. It might not have been the greatest of matches, but it was edgy all the way, and delivered some of the anticipated drama.
The spiciest moment was when Kyrgios aimed a forehand directly at Nadal, who just about got his racket in the way of the ferocious hit. The Australian did not apologize at the time, and he stuck to his guns during the post-match conference. Kyrgios admitted that he was deliberately trying to hit the Spaniard, but insisted that he didn’t owe his opponent any apology.
Kyrgios hits big forehand right at Nadal ?
— Vicehood (@Vicehood) July 4, 2019
“I wanted to hit him square in the chest,” Kyrgios said. “Why would I apologize? Dude’s got how many Slams? How much money in the bank account? I think he can take a ball to the chest.”
Kyrgios has generally been the aggressor in this feud, and he’s taken particular exception to the amount of time Nadal takes between serves. He referenced it in an ill-tempered match with Karen Khachanov in Cincinnati last year, and subsequently posted a comparison on Social Media to back up his point.
More recently, he mocked the Spaniard’s fidgety service routine when he was called for a time violation during his Australian Open second round victory over Gilles Simon.
— doublefault28 (@doublefault28) January 23, 2020
Unsurprisingly, Kyrgios and Nadal have had to answer questions about each other in the build up to their latest meeting. The conversations have generally been civil, but there have been not so subtle hints that both players do not like each other at all.
“I don’t know. I don’t know him personally, honestly, to have a clear opinion”, said Nadal, when asked if he likes Kyrgios.
“It is clear (that) when he does stuff that in my opinion is not good, I don’t like (it).
“When he plays good tennis and he shows passion for this game, he is a positive player for our tour, and I want my tour bigger, not smaller… So the player who make the tour bigger are important for the tour”.
“When he’s ready to play his best tennis and play with passion, (he) is one of those guys… When he’s doing the other stuff, of course I don’t like (it).”
Kyrgios was also orderly in his response, insisting that there’s a layer of respect between the two players- even if they do not like each other.
“Regardless, if we don’t like each other or whatever, I think there’s a layer of respect. He’s one of the greatest of all time. I also read that he thinks I’m good for the sport,” he said.
“There’s a layer of respect that we both have for each other. Doesn’t necessarily mean we like each other”.
“I don’t really know Rafa… I’ve never really hung out with him so I don’t really know how he is. I don’t really dislike him. I never said I dislike him. I don’t know him at all”.
“Helluva tennis player. I don’t know him as a person. I assume he’s OK.”
So the stage is set for the eighth instalment of Kyrgios vs Nadal. Beyond the sub-plots and the drama, it is important to point out that both men have been in fine form in Melbourne, which should make for a fascinating contest.
And then there’s the added spice from all the shenanigans that have gone on between the over the past year…