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By Richard Pagliaro | Monday, January 27, 2020

Rafa Nadal

Rafael Nadal out-dueled nemesis Nick Kyrgios, 6-3, 3-6, 7-6, 7-6, in an electrifying win to seal a spot in his 12th AO quarterfinal vs. Dominic Thiem.

Photo credit: Mark Peterson/Corleve

A wall of sound echoed in Rafael Nadal's ears as he pounced from a crouch near the back fence.

An inspired Nick Kyrgios did his best to box in the world No. 1.

More: Tennis Pays Tribute to Kobe Bryant

An industrious Nadal blasted through all barriers he faced with conviction.

In an electric clash that matched its massive hype, Nadal edged nemesis Kyrgios 6-3, 3-6, 7-6(6), 7-6(4) charging into his 12th Australian Open quarterfinal in stirring style.

"I think I have been playing well. Is always the same thing: when we have been playing rallies, I feel more or less on control of the point, no? I think I played well from the baseline, changing directions, changing rhythms, playing aggressive with my forehand and backhand," Nadal said.  "The problem is when he's serving, you don't have many chances. He has a big serve, so you are under pressure the whole match. That's the story about playing against the big servers, especially Nick, that is a big server. Is a very good player from the baseline, too.

"So you're under pressure during the whole match. But honestly, has been a very positive match for me. Happy about the victory. Has been a great victory against a great opponent, and I'm through to the quarterfinals. That's a good start. "

Photo credit: Mark Peterson/Corleve

Continuing his quest to match Roger Federer's Grand Slam record by collecting his 20th major crown, Nadal is also aiming to become the first man to win all four Slams multiple times.

The 2009 AO champion will face Dominic Thiem in a rematch of the Roland Garros final. Earlier, Thiem, who cut ties with co-coach Thomas Muster, dismantled Gael Monfils 6-2, 6-4, 6-4 to advance to his first AO quarterfinal.

A master of multi-tasking, Nadal withstood 25 aces from the volatile Kyrgios, defied roaring Aussie fans eager to push the drama to a fifth set and denied Kyrgios' bid to avenge his Wimbledon loss last summer by the identical scoreline he earned at SW19.

While Nadal is known for comprehensive court coverage, the US Open champion unleashed his twisting topspin forehand to great effect. Nadal hit 14 more winners—64 to 50—and shrunk space for the Aussie to explore.

"I just couldn't get a ball past him," Kyrgios said. "I was trying to serve and volley, trying to dropshot. Eventually I would have to win the point three times to win a point.

"That's just the champion he is, the player he is. He makes you play the extra ball. I thought he played well, considering how slow it was. I mean, he served really well, I thought. Hit his backhand slice really well. I mean, he played well. He just played the bigger points well, better than I did."

Ultimately, the world No. 1 showed the undying power of one.

“It was a very tough match,” Nadal told John McEnroe in his on-court interview afterward. “In the beginning I was in control, but you’re never in control against Nick. When I made the mistake on serve in the second set, with one serve of mine, it was so difficult to break him again.

"I did the same in the fourth set, but he played a good game. I played a scary game at 5-4, it’s part of the sport and you have to accept it. I tried to recover mentally for 6-5 and then the tie break. "

The latest installment of a ferocious rivalry came after the temperamental Aussie admitted he tried drilling Nadal "square in the chest" during his second-round Wimbledon loss last summer. Then Kyrgios mocked Nadal's pre-serve ritual earlier this week by picking at the seat of his shorts.

An emotional Kyrgios, who took the court wearing a Kobe Bryant jersey in honor of the departed Lakers legend, backed up his physical fifth-set tie break win over Karen Khachanov with a dynamic effort against the top seed. 

Suspense spiked in the third-set tie breaker.

Striking first with a flurry of forehands, Nadal maintained his mini-break lead up 4-2 as the pair switched sides. The man sporting sleeveless pink pasted running forehand into net giving back the mini break. Kyrgios cranked a slider serve wide for 5-all.

The Kyrgios blinked missing the center stripe with a double fault gifting set point to his nemesis, but Nadal double-faulted it right back.

The forehand down the line was a key stroke for Nadal tonight. He slashed that shot with purpose, streaked forward and knifed a high backhand volley for a second set point.

When Kyrgios flattened a diagonal forehand into net, Nadal screamed to his box in elation snatching a two-sets to one lead.

"What I had to do is play my best tennis," Nadal said. "When I go on court, you can try to think about a couple of things, but at the end what really matters is to play well. I know if I am playing my tennis and I am able to do it well, probably I going to have my chances. If not, will be much more difficult.

"My position on the return have been farther than usual, a lot of meter behind the baseline. We tried to put more balls in. Anyway, you can analyze the match in terms of I know today the forehand down the line have been an important shot for me. I knew before the match start, something we spoke, that is important to hit the forehand down the line but with the right determination. I think I did."

A stirring match reached its climax in the fourth set tie break that saw the pair trade aces for 2-all. Serving at 3-4, Kyrgios blinked. 

Seeing Nadal again drifting back several feet behind the baseline, Kyrgios pushed a drop shot into the net handing the Spaniard the mini break and a 5-3 lead. 

Nadal banged a body serve for match point then blasted a vicious inside-out forehand ending a pulsating three hour, 38-minute triumph.

Photo credit: Mark Peterson/Corleve

Ultimately, intense rivals came to respectful meeting at night with Kyrgios telling Nadal "good match."

"When he plays like today with a positive attitude, he gives a lot to the sport," Nadal said. "He’s one of the best talents on Tour and I like the Nick Kyrgios of this tournament."


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