Nadal Frustrates Kyrgios, Maintains Perfect Season To Reach Indian Wells SFs

Spaniard awaits compatriot Alcaraz

Rafael Nadal overcame a monstrous start and a measured comeback attempt from Nick Kyrgios with an assured finish on Thursday in the BNP Paribas Open quarter-finals.

With the 7-6(0), 5-7, 6-4 victory, Nadal extends his perfect season to 19-0 and improves his ATP Head2Head record against Kyrgios to 6-3, including wins in their past three meetings. A three-time champion in Indian Wells, Nadal returns to the semi-finals for the 11th time in the desert.

Nadal trailed by a break in the opening set and faced two break points in his first service game of the decider, but locked in to surge late in both sets and advance.

“I think for moments I played well,” Nadal said post-match. “It’s difficult to play against him, always tough because he changes the dynamic of the point very quick and his serve is huge, especially the first serve.

“I think I played a good third set. Returning better. I was solid with the serve; I just suffered in one game with my serve. Nick is one of these kind of players that you're going to have problems when he’s motivated."

Nadal broke the Kyrgios serve for the first time in the tournament as the Aussie served for the first set at 5-4. The Aussie wild card, who led 30/15 in that game, had held in each of his 30 previous service games, saving nine break points as he reached the quarter-finals without dropping a set.

That break changed the colour of the match, as Kyrgios grew frustrated and Nadal began to repel his opponent's power with greater success. A shutout tie-break ended on a point penalty for an audible obscenity, Kyrgios' late outburst underscoring the extent of the turnaround to close the set. 

But the Aussie steadied impressively in the second, dominating on serve and worrying Nadal by taking the initiative on the return throughout the set. Kyrgios dropped just two points on serve in the stanza, winning 88 per cent (15/17) of those exchanges according to Infosys ATP Stats. He pushed Nadal to 30/30 in three return games before making a late breakthrough of his own with the help of a Nadal break point and a few untimely errors.

The first break point of the set doubled as a set point for Kyrgios, who tracked down a drop shot and flicked a high backhand volley past Nadal to level the match in style.

A tight start to the final set included a short but testy exchange between Kyrgios and a fan, who happened to be sitting next to actor Ben Stiller, front row center: "Do I tell him how to act," Kyrgios snapped, pointing to Stiller.

Nadal saved a pair of break points in the second game of the set, forcing a pair of backhand errors to halt his opponent's momentum.

"Tennis is all about the momentum sometimes," Nadal said. "After the way that I finished the second with a couple of mistakes, I knew the beginning of the third will be so important and probably critical for me. So I needed to save the first couple of games, and then the match came back to normal and anything can happen."

Soon after, Nadal earned his second break of the match on a double fault to lead 4-3. After returning from the back wall for much of the match, he found success by stepping closer to the baseline down the stretch.

"I decided to move in a little bit more, to try to change a little bit his visual position, try to create something different on him," Nadal explained. "I think it worked. I was able to be quick with the hands, had some great returns on the first serve.

"It's all about finding the solution in every moment. In this sport it's not only about how you feel comfortable. It's about how you can make your opponent feel uncomfortable, too."

With Nadal back out in front, two love holds sealed victory in two hours and 46 minutes.

The close of the first and third sets felt very similar, with Nadal blunting Kyrgios' attack and errors creeping into the Aussie's game. Kyrgios played with power and confidence for the majority of the match, with the final phase of the first and third sets the only exceptions. Nadal was steady throughout, save for a loose game which cost him the second set, raising his game slightly at the key moments to frustrate the in-form Aussie.

Nadal will next face 19th seed Carlos Alcaraz in a crunch semi-final clash.

Kyrgios was contesting his first ATP Tour quarter-final since Washington in 2019 and his first at the ATP Masters 1000 level since Cincinnati in 2017. The World No. 132 is the lowest-ranked Indian Wells men's quarter-finalist since 2011, and the first wild card to reach that stage since Todd Martin reached the semis in 2002.

His third-round victory over eighth seed Casper Ruud was his first Top 10 win in more than two years. A former World No. 13 himself, Kyrgios will rise to the doorstep of the Top 100 in the next edition of the ATP Rankings.