Nadal cruised past Pablo Carreno Busta on Rod Laver Arena, 6-1, 6-2, 6-4, while Kyrgios battled past Karen Khachanov in a night-time thriller on Melbourne Arena, 6-2, 7-6 (5), 6-7 (6), 6-7 (7), 7-6 (10-8).
Nadal and Kyrgios have played seven times before, with Nadal leading, 4-3. But Kyrgios is up 2-1 on hard courts, and they’re 1-1 at Grand Slams. They’ve met twice at Wimbledon, with the Australian winning in the fourth round in 2014 and the Spaniard getting revenge in the second round last year. This will mark the first time Kyrgios has squared off against the 19-time major champion in his home country.
The two have had some differences, particularly since playing each other in Acapulco last year, where Kyrgios fought off three match points to win a heated clash against Nadal, 3-6, 7-6 (2), 7-6 (6).
Nadal was asked about Kyrgios after his win over Carreno Busta.
“I don’t know. I don’t know him personally, honestly, to have a clear opinion,” Nadal said of Kyrgios. “It’s clear, of course, that when he does stuff that in my opinion is not good, I don’t like. When he plays good tennis and he shows passion for this game, he is a positive player for our tour, and I want my tour bigger, not smaller. So 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, he is one of these guys.
“When he’s doing the other stuff, of course I don’t like.”
If their form on Saturday is anything to go by, Nadal could be very tough to beat. The 2009 champion hit six times as many winners as unforced errors during his match against the No. 27-seeded Carreno Busta, 42 to 7, not facing a single break point to win in just an hour and 38 minutes.
Nadal improved to 5-0 against Carreno Busta and has now won 18 in a row against fellow Spaniards.
“It was my best match of the tournament so far, without a doubt,” Nadal said. “Big difference between today and the previous days. I have been serving well, starting to create damage with the forehand.
“It’s important to make steps forward. It’s clear that today I made an important one.”
The No. 23-seeded Kyrgios won a marathon under the lights against Khachanov, the No. 16 seed, going up two sets to love and holding a match point in both the third and fourth set tiebreaker. He eventually had to fight back from a mini-break down in the fifth set match tiebreaker, and was two points from exiting, before winning the last three points to prevail.
Khachanov missed a backhand down the line wide to end it after four hours and 26 minutes.
“Man, it was crazy,” Kyrgios said in his on-court interview. “I don’t even know what to say right now. It was insane. I have no words how I’m feeling right now. This is just epic. I don’t know what’s going on.
“I was losing it mentally a bit, especially when I lost the third, but you guys willed me over the line.”
Kyrgios was then asked about Nadal.
“He has a winning record against me - whatever happens between us, he’s an amazing player, he’s a champion,” the Australian said. “I’m going to give everything I have, and hopefully it’ll be enough.”