Rafael Nadal knew what he was in for on Tuesday. In his opening-round match at the Mexican Open, Nadal's opponent was Mischa Zverev, who knows how to play one way: serve-and-volley. The strategy for Nadal was simple in theory but harder to execute: make returns, hit passing shots when openings present themselves, and try to disrupt the German from his time-tested game plan.
As he often does, Nadal found a way to make a challenge look more like an exhibition. The 6-3, 6-3 score was more comprehensive than dominant, but the world No. 2 was never anything less than the dictator of this contest, his first since losing the Australian Open final to Novak Djokovic. In that match, it was Nadal who had no answers, but it wasn't because he didn't know what was coming. Djokovic was just too good—way too good.
Nadal's win over Zverev sets up an intriguing round-of-16 match against Nick Kyrgios—and that's all we can say about it. What kind of game plan, effort, tactics and intensity will the Aussie bring to this headliner? It will remain an open question all the way to, and perhaps during, the match itself. It's a fool's errand trying to forecast how Kyrgios will play, although he has a tendency to play his best against top opponents. He boasts a 2-3 record against Nadal, with wins on grass and hard courts. Their last meeting was over a year ago, in Beijing, which Nadal won going away, 6-2, 6-1.
"Let's see," Nadal told Tennis Channel global correspondent Prakash Amritraj after his win over Zverev, sounding as unsure of what's to come as many prognosticators. "It's going to be a tough one."
Kyrgios' 6-3, 7-5 win over the consistent Andreas Seppi was a nice sign for those hoping to see a competitive tussle. Whether it's close or not, however, expect to drama either way.