Rafael Nadal beat Nick Kyrgios 7-6 (7/0), 5-7, 6-4 in a tumultuous quarter-final clash at the Indian Wells WTA and ATP Masters on Thursday to extend his perfect 2022 start to 19-0.
Nadal, who won a record-setting 21st Grand Slam title at the Australian Open in January, notched his sixth win in nine career meetings with the mercurial Aussie, who surrendered the first set on a penalty point when a fan’s shout as he prepared to serve provoked a profanity from Kyrgios — who had already been warned for racquet abuse.
It was a frustrating end to a first set in which Kyrgios drew first blood, breaking Nadal for a 2-1 lead.
Nadal double-faulted on break point as he struggled early to find a good rhythm on his serve against an aggressive, focused Kyrgios.
Kyrgios, playing his first tournament since lifting the Australian Open men’s doubles title with compatriot Thanasi Kokkinakis, displayed a devastating forehand along with a couple of crowd-pleasing trick shots — although neither a between-the-legs effort nor a behind-the-back shot yielded a point.
But as he served for the set at 5-4 30-15, Nadal dug in, winning two scintillating rallies to force a break point on which Kyrgios sent a forehand long.
After he fell down 5-6 Kyrgios’s frustration boiled over and he drew a warning after slamming his racquet down.
And his choice words for the vocal fan as he prepared to serve with the set on the line in the tiebreaker cost him the crucial point.
When he discussed the call with umpire Carlos Bernardes during the changeover, Bernardes said he’d had no choice but to dock the point.
Bernardes was as frustrated as the players by the restless crowd, using his microphone in the second set to take a disruptive spectator to task by noting that among thousands in attendance “you’re the only one screaming like crazy.”
An agitated Kyrgios was muttering to himself throughout the second set, largely unable to take advantage of Nadal’s errors — which eventually included seven double faults in the match.
They proceeded on serve until the 12th game when Nadal opened another shaky service display with a double fault and found himself facing the first breakpoint of the second set, which Kyrgios converted with a high backhand volley winner.
After holding to open the third set, Kyrgios had Nadal under pressure on his serve, but couldn’t convert two breakpoints.
It was Nadal’s turn to apply the pressure in the fifth game, but Kyrgios closed it out with three aces in a row to lead 3-2 — not before a testy exchange with actor Ben Stiller sitting courtside.
After Nadal’s volley winner gave him breakpoint in the seventh game Kyrgios double-faulted on the breakpoint and raged at Bernardes at the changeover that he was not controlling the crowd.
Regardless of what was going on around them, Nadal had the bit in his teeth, holding his next two service games to love and finishing it off with an overhead smash.
Nadal, seeking a fourth title in the California desert, next faces either 18-year-old compatriot Carlos Alcaraz or defending champion Cameron Norrie for a place in the final.