Nadal Beats Kyrgios In High-Quality Battle
Nadal improves to 19-3 on clay in 2016 for a place in the Rome last eight
Nadal will next meet World No. 1 and four-time champion Novak Djokovic on Friday at the Foro Italico. The World No. 5 is now one match win away from 50 victories in Rome (49-4). In recent weeks he has won two clay-court titles at the Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters (d. Monfils) and the Barcelona Open BancSabadell (d. Nishikori).
"I'm playing well, I feel like I am playing at the right level," said Nadal. "Today was an important victory for me, of course, against a very difficult opponent. And coming back after a tough first set that I had a lot of opportunities. I believe, after the first six games I think I had more chances than him, but I had couple of mistakes on those chances. And then on the tie-break I hit one double fault and then he played great."
Nadal and Kyrgios exchanged service breaks at the start of the match, their second meeting. Kyrgios managed to save one set point at 4-5, when Nadal missed a backhand return. The Australian then won four straight points from 3/3 in the tie-break, finishing with a forehand winner.
Nadal responded immediately at the start of the second set. At No. 6 in the all-time list when coming back to win from losing the first set, according to the FedEx ATP Performance Zone, the Spaniard broke Kyrgios to love in the first game. He then couldn't convert two break point opportunities in an 11-point third game but gained another break en route to a 5-1 lead.
At 2-5, Kyrgios was unable to win any of his three break point opportunities. He received further treatment for a hip flexor injury at the change of ends. "My hip was not great before the match either, but I knew my game plan and I knew I was going to try and play aggressive," said Kyrgios. "It's bothering me but it didn't really bother me too much at all."
Both players went on the offensive in the decider. Kyrgios continued to play fearless tennis, opening up the court for forehand winners that Nadal attempted to repel. But the pressure mounted on the shoulders of the Australian, who saved one break point in the first game of the decider.
Nadal was not to be denied, converting his fourth break point opportunity in a lengthy third game en route to a 3-1 advantage. Kyrgios then recovered from a 0/40 deficit to stay in the match, but Nadal lost just one point in his next three service games.
World No. 20 Kyrgios previously beat Nadal 7-6(5), 5-7, 7-6(5), 6-3 in the 2014 Wimbledon fourth round. He drops to a 21-7 record on the 2016 season, which includes his first ATP World Tour title at the Open 13 Provence (d. Cilic). He recorded his fifth Top 10 win of the year over No. 10-ranked Milos Raonic on Wednesday.
"It makes me feel confident," said Kyrgios. "Obviously he's the greatest of all time on this surface. For me, just when I was a bit younger, two years ago, we were always talking about playing Rafa on clay, and I always thought I'd get absolutely destroyed against him. Then to play him and compete out there, deep in the third, [a] three-hour match, it feels pretty good."