Acapulco 2019: Nick Kyrgios beats top-seed Nadal in highly-charged battle, & David Ferrer bids farewell

Nick Kyrgios beats top-seed Rafael Nadal to reach the quarter-finals in Acapulco

Rafael Nadal
Rafael Nadal (Photo: Marianne Bevis)

It was a day of high emotions at the glamorous Acapulco-based Abierto Mexicano Telcel 500, which joined the hot hard-court swing in 2014 after years as a key venue in the South American clay “Golden Swing”.

Emotional because here one of the tournament’s most prolific and beloved champions, David Ferrer, would bid farewell after winning three times on clay and also on the blue courts in 2015.

Persistent injuries have forced one of the hardest-working warriors on a tennis court to sign off his professional career as he heads to his 37th birthday on the home soil of the Madrid Masters.

Now ranked down at 143 after reaching a high of No3 and winning 27 titles, Ferrer used his wild card to reach the second round and a meeting with world No3 Alexander Zverev, a man 15 years his junior and with the kind of fire-power Ferrer could only dream of.

Almost inevitably, Ferrer could not maintain the effort he spent in reaching a first-set tie-break, and Zverev powered through the second set to reach the quarters, 7-6, 6-1, but after a warm embrace, he stepped away and gave the stage to the diminutive Spaniard. There was not a dry eye in the house.

The warmth of the moment contrasted dramatically with the conclusion of the previous match. The battle between world No2 and top seed, Rafael Nadal, and the ‘love him or hate him’ Nick Kyrgios was always going to capture the imagination and bring in the fans, and they were not disappointed after a three-hour, highly-charged contest.

Nadal had lost twice to the Australian: the first time on Kyrgios’s way to the Wimbledon quarter-finals while he was still a teenager, and the second time in Cincinnati in 2017.

Three times, Nadal had got the upper hand, and Kyrgios was currently ranked down at 72 after hot-and-cold results courtesy of elbow and hip injuries—a story that has blighted the super-talented Aussie’s career.

But lest anyone forget, the young player who is still only 23 years old reached the semi-finals in Acapulco two years ago with a win over then No2 Novak Djokovic, and had stacked up a 15-28 record against top-10 opponents.

Nadal would not be broken in the match, fending off the only break-point he faced in the second set, but he was also unable to take advantage of nine out of 10 chances against Kyrgios. So although the Spaniard’s single break in the first set at 4-2, closing it out 6-3 with 13 of the last 18 points, made his progress to the quarter-finals look just a matter of time, Acapulco’s huge Nadal fan-base would soon be disabused.

A medical time-out by Kyrgios seemed also to signal a Nadal win, especially as he was already playing with supports around both knees.

He indicated he was feeling unwell, but he decided to continue, and began to produce some of his trademark glittering shot-making.

He resisted the first of four break points in the ninth game, but Nadal still looked the stronger man, and held to love to take it to a tie-breaker. However, two outright winners from the Aussie made it 3-0, and in minutes, he was 5-0, and although Nadal held both his serves, Kyrgios served out the set, 7-6(2).

Thus far, Nadal had made only five unforced errors for 16 winners, but they had won an identical 47 points.

Now Kyrgios called the physio for a back problem, an extended medical time out that revealed support taping down both sides of his spine. So long did the break last that Nadal was pacing the baseline waiting to serve: He did not look impressed.

But he would become still more unsettled as Kyrgios then saved five break points in the sixth game of the decider. It would end up in a tie-break to determine the victor, and still Nadal seemed to have the upper hand as he took a 6-3 lead for three match points.

Nadal’s brow furrowed ever deeper when Kyrgios made a drop shot winner, then clipped the net for a volley winner. And two errors from the Spaniard, including a double fault, brought up match point to Kyrgios. A final Nadal error, only his 17th of the match, conceded the match, and Kyrgios fell to the court in delight.

The Centre Court crowd was less delighted, indeed raucous in its jeering and boos. Provocative to the last, Kyrgios asked for more volume after Nadal barely touched hands at the usual net exchange.

The Spaniard was clearly bitterly disappointed—on paper he had played a fine match, making 39 winners for his 17 errors, and had won 10 more points than Kyrgios. But his bitterness came out in forthright terms at his press conference:

“He is a player who has a huge talent, could be winning Grand Slam or fighting for the first place in the rankings… [but] he lacks respect for the public, the rivals and himself.”

For Kyrgios, however, it was a triumph.

“It’s massive. I’ve struggled a lot this year, so to be able to put in a performance like that against the No1 seed is pretty special… The level of tennis I played today is a good test for my body and the way I competed, I left it all out there… It’s a massive confidence boost for me.”

Whether he will be fully fit for his next challenge, the in-form Stan Wawrinka, who beat No7 seed Steve Johnson, 7-6(5), 6-4, is another matter. Kyrgios admitted:

“It’s going to be incredibly tough. Another multiple Grand Slam champion who knows how to win matches. It looks like he’s coming into form again. His one-handed backhand is one of the best ever in the game—he’s a great competitor.”

Also in the top half of the draw, John Isner notched up his 400th match-win, beating Sam Querrey to set a quarter-final against John Millman.

And in the bottom half of the draw, Zverev will play Alex de Minaur, who received a walk-over against Feliciano Lopez, while Briton Cameron Norrie, who beat Diego Schwartzman, will take on Mackenzie McDonald, who beat Frances Tiafoe.

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