When Nick Kyrgios and Rafael Nadal face off in the next round of the Australian Open, it will be a chance to gain the upper hand in a year-long feud.
The bitter rivalry between the two tennis heavyweights began last February at the Mexico Open with a petty on-court dispute.
Kyrgios, famously impatient, complained to the umpire about how long the world number one took between serves in their quarter final match.
Nick Kyrgios and Rafael Nadal have a bitter feud that goes back a year and will boil over when they face off this week in the Australian Open
The Australian bad boy responded with one of his famously riling underarm serves that had Nadal furious after losing the epic three-set battle.
Nadal in his post-game press conference said Kyrgios ‘lacks respect for the public, the rival and towards himself’.
His uncle Toni agreed, saying he ‘lacks education and smartness. He should be fighting for the top rankings and instead, he is No 40’.
This did not go down well with Kyrgios, who went off on a long, angry tirade in a podcast in May saying his ‘polar opposite’ was ‘super salty’.
‘When he wins, it’s fine. He won’t say anything bad, he’ll credit the opponent ‘he was a great player’. But as soon as I beat him, it’s just like ‘he has no respect for me, my fans and no respect to the game,’ he said.
Kyrgios, famously impatient, complained to the umpire about how long the world number one took between serves in their quarter final match at the Mexico Open last February
The Australian bad boy responded with one of his famously riling underarm serves that had Nadal furious after losing the epic three-set battle
Kyrgios insisted ‘nothing changed’ and he was still the same player as all the other times they had played in their careers.
‘It’s not a good look for you, I feel. And then Uncle Toni came out saying ‘he lacks education’. I’m like, brah, I did 12 years at school, you idiot. I’m very educated. I understand that you’re upset I beat your family again,’ he said.
Months later in July the pair met again in Wimbeldon and the fireworks were no less spectacular.
Kyrgios fired a shot into Nadal’s chest and not only refused to apologise but admitted he did it on purpose.
‘I think he can take a ball to the chest, bro. I’m not going to apologise to him at all,’ Kyrgios said after the match.
‘I was going for him. Yeah, I wanted to hit him square in the chest. Like, he’s got decent hands.’
They met again in Wimbeldon in July when Kyrgios fired a shot into Nadal’s chest (pictured) and not only refused to apologise but admitted he did it on purpose
‘I think he can take a ball to the chest, bro. I’m not going to apologise to him at all,’ Kyrgios said
Kyrgios again complains to the umpire during the Wimbeldon match which he lost in four sets
Then during his second-round match on Thursday he mimicked the world No 1’s idiosyncratic routines — including fiddling with his underwear — and when word got back to Nadal he was not impressed.
‘I really don’t care. I am here to play tennis. Honestly, I don’t care at all. If was funny, good. That’s it,’ Nadal said.
Kyrgios will need all the recovery time he can get if he wants to knock out his arch-rival after taking four hours and 26 minutes to squeeze past Russia’s Karen Khachanov.
It was his longest-ever match, a thriller that he clinched 6-2, 7-6, 6-7, 6-7, 7-6 when he nicked the sudden-death tiebreak 10-8.
The acclaim was deafening, recognition that Kyrgios’s stock here has risen this month, thanks to him taking a lead in fundraising efforts for the victims of bushfires.
Nick Kyrgios battled past Karen Khachanov on Saturday to progress in the Australian Open
The Aussie will face a mouth-watering clash with his rival Rafael Nadal in the fourth round
Kyrgios then played down disagreements with Nadal, insisting there was respect between them.
‘Regardless, if we don’t like each other or whatever, I think there’s a layer of respect,’ he said.
‘He’s one of the greatest of all time. I also read that he thinks I’m good for the sport.
‘There’s a layer of respect that we both have for each other. Doesn’t necessarily mean we like each other, but we’re going to go out there and give contrasting styles and personalities.’
This show of maturity may not be unrelated to the fact he has started winning plenty of matches, and he is the last Aussie man standing.
Khachanov crashed out in the deciding tie-break after more than four hours of play
When Queenslander John Millman faced Roger Federer on Friday, the Rod Laver Arena almost felt like a corner of Switzerland. One can assuredly say it will not feel like Mallorca for Nadal when their fourth-round clash begins.
The Spaniard, like Federer, is used to being shown deference by his fellow players, and the Australian is disdainful of lip service.
It has served the uber-talented Kyrgios perfectly well, and he has a decent 3-4 record in the head to head against his next opponent.
After cruising past his compatriot Pablo Carreno Busta, Nadal reacted fairly diplomatically to the prospect of his next opponent.
‘I don’t know him personally, to have a clear opinion,’ he said. ‘When he does stuff that in my opinion is not good, I don’t like it.
The maverick player was lost for words after winning the longest match of his career
Kyrgios (right) lent Khachanov (left) a towel to clean the court during Saturday’s epic battle
‘When he plays good tennis and he shows passion for this game, he is a positive player for our tour.’
Kyrgios has previously been criticised for his lack of fitness and his self-admitted reluctance to train.
He came through Saturday’s test surprisingly strongly but the toll it will have taken makes Nadal the clear favourite.
‘My legs feel like they weigh an extra 40 pounds,’ said Kyrgios after finishing off Khachanov.
One thing that does not change is the fact that Kyrgios is pure box office, with his combination of outrageous shotmaking and the danger he is going to blow his stack or do something irrational.
The Australian now has the chance to beat Nadal for the fourth time in eight meetings
Nadal advanced to the round of 16 of the Australian Open with a fine win on Saturday
He actually exuded what was, for him, a relative calm against Khachanov, at least until the ninth game of the fourth set, when he exploded at the time violation given by umpire Renaud Lichtenstein.
The man in the chair had failed to notice that his knuckles were badly bleeding, and that he was slightly delayed by not wanting to hand the ball-kid his towel.
By then Kyrgios had missed a match point in the second tiebreak, and he was to squander another in the third, facing the thunderous serve of the brave Khachanov.
At 7-8 down in the final-set tiebreak another near miss beckoned, but a brilliant backhand down the line turned it round and he won the last three points.
Britain’s leading partnership Jamie Murray and Neal Skupski made a disappointing exit from the second round of the doubles when they lost 14-12 in a sudden-death tiebreak to go down 4-6, 7-6, 7-6 to Americans Steve Johnson and Sam Querrey.