Racquet Reaction

Wimbledon: Kyrgios d. Nadal

Tuesday, July 01, 2014 /by
Photos by Anita Aguilar
Photos by Anita Aguilar

The walls were closing in on Rafael Nadal, and Nick Kyrgios kept swinging like a man eager to bring them down. The wild card barged onto Centre Court with the belief he belonged, then banged 37 aces to bounce the world No. 1 and 14-time Grand Slam champion out of the tournament, 7-6 (5), 5-7, 7-6 (5), 6-3.

Kyrgios showed his competitive spirit in fighting off nine match points to out-duel Richard Gasquet, and asserted his explosive game displacing the two-time champion. The 19-year-old wearing a diamond stud in his left ear and the Zorro-style design in his hair played with plenty of bravado, showed his skill as a shotmaker—Kyrgios cracked 70 winners, including a between-the-legs forehand winner—and closed with confidence. The world No. 144 played the match of his life and looked like he had the time of his life in the process.

Nadal did not play poorly, but faced a fearless opponent who didn't let him play much at all. Nadal served 73 percent and denied two of the three break points he faced, but could not solve Kyrgios' wrecking ball serve. Showing no trace of nerves in his Centre Court debut, the 6'5" Aussie threw down seven aces in his first three service games for a 3-2 advantage. Kyrgios blasted through four service games at love, winning all 19 points played on his first serve in the opening set.

Serving at 5-6, the second seed dodged a set point when Kyrgios' forehand return missed the mark. But Kyrgios burst out to a 4-0 lead in the tiebreaker and snuck his 12th ace down the middle for three more set points. Thumping his 13th ace—a 122 M.P.H. dart wide—Kyrgios captured the 48-minute first set permitting just four points on serve.

An expansive strike zone—Kyrgios can drive the low ball and smack the shoulder-high shot with equal vigor—quick-strike mentality, and a wall-banging serve made the Aussie a powerful puzzle for Nadal. The world No. 1 dropped the opening set for the fifth straight match and had to play catch-up against an opponent steamrolling through service games.

Dropping back a bit deeper behind the baseline to give himself a longer look at returns, Nadal broke through in the 12th game. Kyrgios had won all 40 of his first-serve points to this point, but bungled a routine volley to open the game, and when Nadal blocked a backhand down the line he had his first break point of the day—and a set point. Kyrgios saved it, but two points later, Rafa pounced on a net-cord shot, attacked behind a blistering forehand, and threw a massive uppercut in taking the second set to level.

As the third set progressed, Nadal's serve sharpened while Kyrgios' energy dipped a bit. Nadal drained the edge and legs in rallying from a set down in each of his three tournament wins, but Kyrgios reached back for more on serve, clipping the center stripe with an ace, then snapped off an angled ace to hold for 5-all. Nadal whipped a forehand down the line to earn set point in the next game, but Kyrgios erased it with a serve winner, eventually holding.

The match was on even terms—each man had won exactly 110 points—when the third-set tiebreaker began. At 5-all, Kyrgios went big and bold with a biting second serve that set up a crunching forehand for set point. Pouncing on a second serve, Kyrgios zapped an inside-out forehand return and thrust his arms in the air, briefly showing the fervor of a match-winning moment, only to realize there was much more work to be done.

Nadal tried to create running rallies and make the big man move in the fourth set, trying to draw some errors and nerves from an inexperienced opponent playing just his fifth career Grand Slam tournament. But Kyrgios never blinked, and his two-handed backhand withstood the barrage of topspin forehands from Nadal. A crackling cross-court backhand gave him break point, and Kyrgios pounded a forehand down the line, leaping off the grass like a kid in a bounce house breaking for 3-1. Burying a forehand in the corner to consolidate at 30 for 4-1, the only question was, could Kyrgios hold his nerve and serve to complete the massive upset?

In an answer as declarative as the deep thud of the last ball off the back wall, Kyrgios drilled his 37th ace of the day out wide to wrap up an inspired performance. Welcome to the new age: In a battle of big servers, Kyrgios faces Milos Raonic for a spot in the final four, weeks after Raonic beat Kyrgios in the first round of Roland Garros.

For complete Wimbledon coverage, including updated draws and reports from Steve Tignor, head to our tournament page.

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