Three to See, Wimbledon Day 4: The Nadal vs. Kyrgios grudge match

Three to See, Wimbledon Day 4: The Nadal vs. Kyrgios grudge match

Can Nadal stay calm and take advantage of his break points when they come? Or will Kyrgios get under his skin yet again?

Before each day's play at Wimbledon 2019, we'll preview three must-see matches.

Rafael Nadal vs. Nick Kyrgios

The draw gods smiled on Wimbledon with this one. In the age of 32 seeds, decent first- and second-round matches can be hard to come by. But Nadal-Kyrgios is more than decent; it’s currently the No. 1 grudge match in tennis, as well as, potentially, a dazzling contrast in styles and personalities.

Kyrgios has been getting under Nadal’s skin since, as a swaggering 19-year-old, he beat him in four tight sets on Centre Court in 2014. The mutual annoyance between the mercurial Aussie and the stoical Spaniard festered for the next five years, until Kyrgios beat Rafa again, in a third-set tiebreaker, in Acapulco earlier this year. During that match, Kyrgios threw in an underhand serve; afterward, Nadal said Kyrgios had no respect for the game, or just about anything else. Which leaves us where we are today.

What can we expect when they meet again at Wimbledon? I’d anticipate another close one, perhaps with the confrontational stances toned down a bit. As their 3-3 record attests, Kyrgios’ freewheeling game troubles Nadal, and he tends to hang in mentally even when he falls behind against Rafa. Still, this match may be on Nadal’s racquet. Can he stay calm and take advantage of his break points when they come? For him, this is an opportunity not just to win a match, but to prove that he can beat a certain opponent, and that could make Nadal tight.

We’ve seen Rafa turn the tables back around on past nemeses like Robin Soderling, and he could easily do that again here; he’s riding a two-tournament win streak, and seems very comfortable with his game at the moment. But Kyrgios’ style is still better-suited to grass. More important, he relishes the chance to play Nadal, and the other top players, because he has nothing to lose against them. Winner: Kyrgios

Petra Kvitova vs. Kiki Mladenovic

Would Kvitova be playing if this were any other tournament? Judging by the sleeve on her left arm, the answer is probably no. She skipped the French Open after tearing a muscle in her forearm, and seemed about to skip Wimbledon, too. Instead, she wrapped her arm up—in white, of course—and won her first-round match over Ons Jabeur in straight sets. Even in this condition, it’s not inconceivable that she could contend for the title at her favorite event, and beating a quality opponent like Mladenovic might give her the confidence and momentum she needs. Even in her current state, Kvitova should probably be favored; she’s 7-1 against the Frenchwoman, and hasn’t lost a set to her since 2013. Winner: Kvitova

Taylor Fritz vs. Jan-Lennard Struff

Two tall dudes, two big hitters, two players in the midst of semi-breakout seasons who are currently sitting on career-high rankings, of No. 31 and No. 33 respectively: Fritz vs. Struff is a recipe for very short points, but potentially a very long match. Both of these guys are starting to fulfill their long-predicted potential; it just took the 29-year-old German eight more years to do it than the 21-year-old American. Serves will be key, of course, and in that regard, they’re evenly matched. But Struff, whose surge started during the clay-court season, may be a touch more reliable from the baseline right now. Winner: Struff