World No. 1 Rafael Nadal and Australian Nick Kyrgios met Monday night in the fourth round of the Australian Open on Rod Laver Arena. Nadal prevailed, 6-3, 3-6, 7-6 (6), 7-6 (4), in three hours and 38 minutes.
The late Kobe Bryant once said, "Everything negative - pressure, challenges - is all an opportunity for me to rise."
If there's one takeaway from tonight's battle, Nadal and Kyrgios showed the world just how a pair of tennis players can compete and push each other to rise in a prime time setting.
Kyrgios in press
On learning of Bryant's passing:
"I never met Kobe. But basketball is practically my life. I watch it every day. I've been following it for as long as I can remember. When I woke up to the news, it was pretty emotional. It was pretty heavy, like, all day. Obviously I was having basketball on at my house, watching the games. I was heavy. Yeah, it's just tough. It's horrible news.
"I don't think they make them like him any more. He was different, the way he trained, the way he did things, the way he played. He was special."
On whether it affected his emotions:
"No. I mean, if anything, it motivated me. If you look at the things he stood for, what he wanted to be remembered by, I felt like, if anything, it helped me tonight. When I was down a break in the fourth, I was definitely thinking about it. I fought back. Rafa was really good tonight. Played too good. I had chances. I was a couple of points away from the third set and the fourth set. It happens."
On falling in four to Nadal:
"I'm shattered to have lost tonight. These are the matches that I want to win the most. But, overall all this summer has been fun. My focus shifts to mixed now... I feel like I've made progress as a human. A tennis player, I don't really care about as much."
Nadal's immediate reaction
On Bryant and his legacy:
"What can I say. I wake up this morning with this terrible news. Super sad. He has been one of the greatest sportsman in the history. He deserves a round of big applause."
"I met him. I had a very close friend, that played with him for a long time, Pau Gasol. He always told me about his spirit of overcoming, [being] a hard worker. He always wanted more. He always wanted to increase his level. He was a true inspiration for the world of sport and a lot of kids. Kobe Bryant will be in our hearts and in our minds for the rest of our lives."
On how the match played out:
"In the beginning it seemed like I was a little bit under control but against Nick you are never under control because if you make a mistake like I did in the second set with one serve of mine, then it's so difficult to break him again. [It] happened again in the fourth. He played a good game, I played a scary game at 5-4. I tried to recover mentally."
On what Kyrgios brought to the court:
"What can I say about Nick? When he's playing like today with this positive attitude, he gives a lot of positive things to our sport. I encourage him to keep working like this, because he's one of the highest talents that we have on our tour. And I like the Nick Kyrgios during the whole of this tournament."
Fourth set: Nadal wins 7-6 (4)
10:55PM—Rafa's done it. What a battle, between two incredible competitors. Nadal advances to his 12th quarterfinal at Melbourne Park, where he'll face Dominic Thiem for a semifinal berth.
10:53PM—Three consecutive points for Rafa. Kyrgios brought back the forehand dropper and didn't come close to clearing the net.
10:50PM—Kyrgios responds to hold both times. He now leads 3-2.
10:48PM—The pair trade mini breaks. Nadal up 2-1 early.
10:45PM—Here we go, again. Nadal gets to the tiebreaker with a much better service game. If he wins this, the scoreline will be identical to his Wimbledon victory over the Canberra native.
10:42PM—He's got heart, perhaps two, tonight. Kyrgios saves two break points to hold for 6-5, and now it's Nadal serving to avoid a decisive set.
10:36PM—5-ALL and the house ERUPTS! Kyrgios comes to life with incredible hitting off his forehand wing. Nadal tightened up with a double fault to fall behind 15-40, and on his second chance, Kyrgios converted. Simply unreal.
10:28PM—With Kyrgios holding, there's only two paths now: Nadal serves out the win, or we play on.
10:25PM—Nadal not wasting time. Four points from the finish line. His volleys have been in fine form tonight.
10:20PM—The Aussie increases his ace count to 22 in a crucial hold. 4-3 Nadal.
10:16PM—Two games away from the last eight. Kyrgios went down hard on his hip in diving for a backhand. A crunch like sound cracked on the court. Nadal has felt zero pressure on serve in this set.
10:10PM—Kyrgios is still battling in his baseline exchanges, and stops the bleeding. Nadal leads 3-2.
10:07PM—Thirteen straight points for Nadal, who will undoubtedly look to step on the gas as the match approaches the three-hour mark.
10:03PM—Nadal is in the driver's seat now, breaking for 2-1. A pair of errors put Kyrgios in a 0-40 hole, and he double faulted long to drop serve.
10:00PM—The 19-time major champ matches his opponent in winning four of five service points.
9:57PM—Kyrgios on the board with a nice start. Nadal asks for more lemon water during the change of ends.
9:55PM—Stat check heading into the fourth. Nadal 48 winners to 20 unforced errors; Kyrgios 38 to 30.
Third set: Nadal wins 7-6 (6)
9:52PM—Nadal roars to a two-sets-to-one-lead. He regrouped with an aggressive point, before Kyrgios' forehand found the net in the ensuing exchange.
9:50PM—Wow. Nadal follows suit with his own double fault. It's 6-6.
9:49PM—Kyrgios reached 5-5, but a double fault hands the top seed a set point.
9:47PM—Another unforced error from Nadal on the forehand side and Kyrgios is back on serve.
9:45PM—Two missed forehands by Rafa brings it to 4-3, with the Spaniard to serve.
9:42PM—Kyrgios received a code violation warning after destroying his racquet. Nadal up 3-1.
9:40PM—Nadal gains the first mini break for 2-0 when a backhand from the 24-year-old finds the net.
9:38PM—Tiebreak time, after Kyrgios was two points from dropping the set. At 15-15, Kyrgios served and volleyed. In a ping-pong esque exchange, he had four opportunities to win the point, but Nadal stabbed each volley back and the Aussie netted a sitting backhand. In the end it didn't matter. Nadal ran out of challenges but will get one back in the breaker.
9:30PM—Nadal stays in front with a hold at 15. Kyrgios showcased at least three different grunts in that game. He told Keothavong the linesman who missed a serve long call (which Kyrgios correctly challenged) is ruining the flow. Kyrgios, who stated "I'm giving 130%" then proceeded to yell at the linesman, "why are you laughing?"
9:26PM—Five games all. A double fault and mistimed forehand put Kyrgios behind 15-30, but he shrugged it off with three massive serves.
9:22PM—Cat meet mouse. Shot-making on full display, Nadal survives a roller-coaster game where both players tested the limits of geometry and agility. Kyrgios will now serve to stay in this set.
9:14PM—Enigmatic tennis on brand. Kyrgios lives on the edge but wipes away a break point for 4-4. His underhand serve finally made an appearance, and he failed to execute. He was burned on a serve and volley off the second serve, yet pulled off a disguised forehand drop shot.
9:08PM—This show continues to entertain. Nadal holds, and wins the most exciting point of the night so far. Kyrgios played his part with tremendous anticipation, before his backhand reach volley found the net. He fell to the ground for a few extra seconds to catch his breath.
9:02PM—A definite shift since the first set, with Kyrgios doing a better job of keeping Nadal guessing with his serve placement.
8:58PM—Make that 12/13 points won on serve for Rafa in this set. He leads 3-2, after Kyrgios' fake out failed to trick the Spaniard, who produced his own dose of magic for a winner. Gets a smile from Kyrgios. Rafa returns the favor.
8:55PM—Tied 2-2. Some surprising errors in that game from Nadal.
8:51PM—Maintaining his focus, Nadal serves up another routine game, painting his own out wide ace as a finishing touch.
8:47PM—He was down 0-30, but Kyrgios reset with an explosive forehand winner up the line, and closed with an ace out wide.
8:42PM—Nadal bolts out with an assertive hold. He hit a hard body serve in the ad court that caught Kyrgios by surpirse. Chair umpire James Keothavong asked the crowd to keep adverse comments to themselves.
Second set: Kyrgios wins 6-3
8:38PM—He was pushed to 30-30, but Kyrgios levels the clash with two more aces. He was much bolder in the set with 15 winners—three more than Nadal. Both had seven unforced errors, while Kyrgios went a perfect seven for seven when he came forward.
8:34PM—The set is now on the Aussie's racquet. Nadal holds without much resistance.
8:30PM—Kyrgios leads 5-2. A nifty half volley started another successful trip to the line. He's feeling it right now.
8:27PM—Rafa answers with his quickest service game of the night. 4-2 Kyrgios.
8:24PM—Two quick aces lead to a love hold. This place is starting to buzz. That opening game looks to be even more crucial now. Credit to Kyrgios for hanging with Nadal on the baseline.
8:21PM—Kyrgios breaks on his first chance for 3-1. Three unforced errors by Nadal set up the opportunity and in a lengthy exchange, Kyrgios' floating forehand fell in, a shot the charging Nadal watched sail by.
8:14PM—Great response from Kyrgios, who gets a much-needed hold at 15. He's been unafraid to pull out the drop shot and has had better success of late.
8:11PM—The No. 1 smacks two aces to shift the pressure immediately back across the net.
8:07PM—Kyrgios fends off three break points, the second which included a tweener off the Spaniard's lob. His first serve location hasn't been there, but it's a critical hold in a testing game, sure to build some energy inside RLA.
First set: Nadal wins 6-3
7:53PM—The wind picks up and so does Nadal's serve. He closes with a thump, finishing Set 1 by winning 17 of 19 first serve points.
7:50PM—Nadal will serve for the set after Kyrgios recovers from 15-30.
7:46PM—Nadal giving Kyrgios plenty of different looks with his shape and speed. There's been no answer to the challenge as of yet. Wind also a factor, playing into Rafa's favor.
7:43PM—A pair of aces propel Kyrgios to his second game.
7:39PM—As Kyrgios chatters away to his box, Nadal keeps moving forward to consolidate for 4-1.
7:34PM—Nadal is getting his racquet on a lot of first serves and is rewarded with the first break, 3-1. Kyrgios had several miscues during a lengthy game that didn't go his way.
7:27PM—Rafa's picking up where he left off Saturday. Six winners through three games thus far.
7:24PM—A positive start for the Aussie, who hits an ace up the T to close out his first service game.
7:21PM—Nadal was pushed to deuce, but holds for 1-0.
7:17PM—Conditions are quite cool. Kyrgios wins the opening point on Nadal's serve.
7:13PM—Kyrgios has the jersey on for the warm up. He'll have to take it off once the match begins, but paying homage to the fullest.
7:09PM—The players have taken the court, both receiving a warm welcome.
7:05PM—Organizers pay tribute to Bryant with a video in Rod Laver Arena.
7:00PM—Waiting in the wings, Kyrgios is wearing Kobe Bryant's No. 8 Lakers' jersey. A simple, but powerful gesture to the NBA legend, who passed away Sunday in a helicopter crash that also claimed Bryant's daughter Gianna in California.
6:56PM—Before the players take the court, Margaret Court is honored for her 1970 Calendar year Grand Slam. Rod Laver presented her with a replica Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup.
These two are facing off for the first time in Australia. Nadal leads their head-to-head series 4-3, and won their most recent encounter in four during Wimbledon’s second round last year. Kyrgios has taken two of three hard-court clashes and has one best-of-five win (2014 Wimbledon fourth round).
What Kyrgios has left in the tank physically—and emotionally—is perhaps the biggest question of the night. He edged Karen Khachanov in four hours and 26 minutes, the longest match of his career, less than 48 hours ago on Melbourne Arena. He ended his press conference by stating, “I feel good. Like I feel like my game is ready to go.” The basketball superfan woke up today to news that legend Kobe Bryant and daughter Gianna tragically perished in a helicopter crash, so he’ll have more than just a tennis battle on his mind.
Nadal is coming off an emphatic performance, where he struck 42 winners to just seven unforced errors, wiping away countryman Pablo Carreno Busta in one hour and 38 minutes. He’s hungry to win at Melbourne Park, having not raised the trophy since 2009. Rafa hates losing, perhaps more than anyone, and he’ll be extra motivated not to let it happen against Kyrgios. “The players who make the tour bigger are important for the tour. When he's ready to play his best tennis and play with passion, [then he] is one of these guys,” Nadal said regarding Kyrgios’ on-court choices.