There is no rule in the book that says that tennis players have to like each other which is just as well – it is highly unlikely that Rafa Nadal and Nick Kyrgios will be going for a beer together anytime soon.
The important lesson to be learned from the Nadal-Kyrgios’ match
Rafael Nadal defeated Nick Kyrgios 6-3, 3-6, 7-6, 7-6 at Wimbledon. And that match said a lot.
But the way their second round match had been built up over the past few days into some sort of war was well wide of the mark. Yes, Kyrgios was needling Nadal and, yes, when he thwacked the ball straight at the Spaniard in the third set, Nadal was staring daggers at his tormentor. But it was just a tennis match. And Rafa has something of a reputation for winning tennis matches.
He did that 6-3, 3-6, 7-6, 7-6 in a little over three hours and afterwards, he was in no mood to moan or complain about the Kyrgios antics. They had been a distraction at times and he had lost a little concentration as the Australian continued his long “conversations” (as Rafa politely called them) with the umpire Damien Dumusois. But that was not the point.
The important lesson to be learned from the night’s match was that when Kyrgios focuses and plays as he did for large portions of the four sets, he canbeat anyone and win anything. What saddens Nadal is that Kyrgios does not seem to want to learn that lesson.
“He's a very top, talented player,” Nadal said. “But there is a lot of important things that you need to do to become a champion. He has a lot of good ingredients. But, of course, there remains an important one sometimes, and that is the love, the passion for this game. Without really loving this game that much, is difficult to achieve important things.
“Anyway, with his talent and with his serve, he can win a grand slam, of course. He has the talent to do it. Is true that things can be completely different for him if he wants to play all the matches the same way that he tried today.”
“This sport is about respect and playing fair"
As for being used for target practice, Rafa did not mind that much, either. What annoyed him about that was the way it went against the spirit of the game.
“The history of this sport is about respect and is about playing fair during the whole time,” he said. “I don't say Nick does this stuff to bother the opponent, but is true that sometimes he's dangerous.
“When he hits the ball like this, he is dangerous. He is not dangerous for me, is dangerous for a line referee, dangerous for a crowd. When you hit the ball like this, you don't know where the ball goes.
“I know he's a big talented player, but I am a professional player, too. I know when you hit this kind of ball, the ball can go anywhere. This time the ball went in, almost hit me, no problem. I am professional, so I know how to avoid this. But another time, the ball goes straight to the back. So have been dangerous moment for the line umpire. That ball hits an eye or something like this, is a problem. That's it.”
The momentum moving his way
That said, it is true that from the moment Kyrgios tried to bean his rival, the match changed. Until that point, the momentum had been with Kyrgios but when he let rip with that one shot, Nadal clenched his jaw, he encouraged the crowd to cheer more and headed for the tiebreak with blood in his eye. When he won it, he leapt high in the air and roared. Now the momentum was moving his way.
That ability to stay in every point, no matter what the situation, impresses Kyrgios every time he sees it. He may not be Nadal’s best friend, but he recognises an astonishing champion when he sees one.
“He plays every point,” Kyrgios said. “He doesn't take one point off. I feel like we're the polar opposites. I struggle so hard to just play every point with a routine, have the same patterns.
“I mean, his 1-2 punch, his first serve and his first forehand is probably the best 1-2 punch in the world, apart from Federer. His ability to bring it every day and compete, it's special. It's not easy.”
So now Rafa faces Jo-Wilfried Tsonga on Saturday. It may not be an easier match for Nadal but it will certainly be a lot quieter.