Nadal outclassed by Aussie teenager
LONDON -- Nine years ago, a precocious 19-year-old from Spain took down No. 1-ranked Roger Federer in the semifinals of the French Open. On Tuesday, Rafael Nadal found himself on the other end of that charged dynamic.
The world No. 1 was facing an unconscious 19-year-old looking to score an unimaginable Grand Slam upset on Centre Court.
"Young players are very dangerous as always the young players have something special," Nadal said before the match. "They are able to play with no pressure. They are fresh."
Fresh. Free. Fearless. Australian teenager Nick Kyrgios has been phenomenal this fortnight at the All England Club. Two weeks ago, he won his eighth match in nine days as a qualifier at the Nottingham Challenger. He received a small crystal trophy, 9,200 pounds in prize money and 95 ATP rankings points. More valuable still was the phone call he received while still on court from Wimbledon referee Andrew Jarrett, confirming a wild-card berth in the main draw.
"The phone call put a massive smile on my face," said Kyrgios, the youngest player in the 128-man draw.
That smile broke out again when the gangly 6-foot-4 athlete hit a ridiculous, between-the-legs shot -- he nonchalantly half-volleyed a heavy Rafa forehand for a winner -- in the seventh game of the second set. Actually, he laughed and extended his arms in amazement. Rafa, on the other hand, did not seem overly impressed.
In the end, it didn't matter.
Kyrgios thumped the No. 2-seeded Nadal 7-6 (5), 5-7, 7-6 (5), 6-3 in just less than three hours. He's through to a Wednesday quarterfinal opposite Milos Raonic. It's difficult to quantify the magnitude of this upset, but we'll try. Kyrgios is:
• The first teenager to beat a No. 1-ranked player at a Grand Slam since ... Rafa beat Roger.
• The first man ranked outside the top 100 to beat a No. 1 in a major in 22 years.
• The first player born in the 1990s to beat Nadal, who had been a sparkling 22-0 in that category.
• The first male player to reach the quarterfinals in his Wimbledon debut since Florian Mayer did it a decade ago.
"I was in a bit of a zone out there," Kyrgios said minutes after playing the match of his young life. "It hasn't sunk in what played out there.
"I'm really happy."
It's becoming clearer that the energy Nadal expends in winning the French Open is lethal when he plays a few weeks later at Wimbledon. From 2006 to 2011, he reached the final of all five events he played here. Now, he's gone out before the quarterfinals three years in a row.
"The thing is this surface, when you have an opponent that he decides to serve and to hit every ball very strong, you are in trouble," a candid Nadal explained. "I think that I didn't play really bad. But that's the game in this surface.
"I felt in a way I am even not angry today because I feel that I lost the match losing only one time my serve during the whole match. I created my opportunities."
Kyrgios finished with 37 aces compared with only 11 for Nadal. The Aussie also hit 70 winners, 26 more than Rafa. They each broke serve on one occasion.
"I was not able to read his serve during the whole match," Nadal lamented. "At the end on grass, the resume is that. I was not able to read his serve. I was not able to put enough returns inside."
Kyrgios is an agile athlete with a thunderous serve and a forehand to match. It's easy to forget just how green he is. Coming into Wimbledon, he had won only one ATP-level match this year, in the first round of the Australian Open. After missing two months with an elbow injury, he won Challenger events in Sarasota, Florida, and Savannah, Georgia.
He distinguished himself here with a dramatic, five-set win over No. 13 seed Richard Gasquet in the second round. The kid saved nine match points against Gasquet, tying an Open era record for a winner in a Grand Slam match.
And there was this: It was the first time Kyrgios had beaten a player ranked among the top 50. Now he's done it twice. The funny thing? He lost his first match here three years running in the junior tournament.
Kyrgios ran off to a 4-0 lead in the opening tiebreaker. Nadal got it to 5-6, but Kyrgios cracked a 131 mph ace for the set.
He was serving at 5-6 to reach a second-set tiebreaker when, for the first time, his nerves betrayed him. A too-big forehand sailed wide, and his desperate squash shot found the net, and Rafa -- even though it didn't feel like it -- was even.
In 53 minutes, it wasn't.
Kyrgios worked his way into another tiebreaker and, leading 6-5, hit a monstrous forehand that Nadal couldn't keep on the court.
It was such an odd contrast: Kyrgios, stylistically casual, trying to play at the speed of sound, and Nadal plodding along in his methodical way, oddly out of sorts trying to deal with the Aussie's pace. Kyrgios talked to himself throughout the match, giving himself advice. He jumped for joy a number of times when a special shot moved him.
In the fourth set, Nadal found himself constantly on the defensive. Kyrgios' forehand took him to the corners of the court, and the 14-time Grand Slam champion found it difficult to generate any offense. Rafa was serving at 1-2 in the fourth set when another huge forehand created yet another service break.
At the finish, it was Rafa -- one of the most tenacious players in history -- who looked tired and defeated. Naturally, Kyrgios finished it with an ace.
"That's happens when you have nothing to lose," Nadal said later. "You can play that way. Congratulations to him. For me, beach. For me, I going to go to the beach in Mallorca."
Kyrgios said he saw an interview with his mother, Norlaila, back in Australia in which she predicted Nadal would win.
"She thought he was too good," Kyrgios said. "It made me angry.
"You've got to believe you can win the match from the start."
When the last ball fell, Kyrgios did not fall to the browning grass along the baseline. He didn't toss his racket. Instead, he turned to his box and saluted the team who helped get him into this extraordinary place.
How about that quarterfinal?
"The mind's buzzing," Kyrgios said. "I'm not even going to think about it."