Rafael Nadal survived a tough battle with Australian young gun Nick Kyrgios in the third round of the Italian Open on Thursday, scoring his first win over the Aussie 6-7(4), 6-2, 6-4. Kyrgios got off to the quicker start, but eventually Nadal wore the young gun down, grinding out the three-set victory.
Kyrgios sneaks first set in tiebreak
Nadal got off to a nightmare start in this match, double faulting on the first point and dumping a shot into the net to immediately fall behind love-30. It was soon 0-40 and Kyrgios crushed a backhand winner to break to love to start the match. However, the seven-time champion was quick to respond, racing ahead 15-40 on Kyrgios’ serve in the next game. The Aussie used two big serves to save the break points, but Nadal kept attack and drew back to back errors to level at 1-1.
Both men settled in and began holding serve after the wild start. They continued to put pressure on each other’s serve, with most games reaching 30-30, but neither could manage a break. After pushing Kyrgios to deuce in multiple games without getting a break point opportunity, Nadal finally had a break point at 5-4, which was also a set point, but he sent his return long and Kyrgios went on to hold.
Despite having outplayed Kyrgios through the later stages of a set, Nadal found himself stuck in a tiebreak to decide the opener. On the first point, Kyrgios shanked a passing shot attempt that dropped in for a winner to give him the early minibreak. But he gave it right back with an unforced error on the next point. At 3-4, Nadal threw in a poorly timed double fault to give Kyrgios the late minibreak. After winning the next point, the Aussie blasted a forehand winner on set point to wrap up the opener.
Nadal dominates to even match
Once again, the set started out with the returner applying pressure immediately in the first game. This time, it was Nadal racing ahead 0-40 in the opening game and ripped a forehand winner at the first time of asking for the immediate break lead. The King of Clay, who seemed to be growing in confidence, won the first ten points of the set, good enough for a 2-0, 0-30 lead before his opponent finally won a point. Nadal had two break points in the third game, but Kyrgios saved them.
The world number five continued to dominate and had another chance to break Kyrgios’ next service game and this time, the Aussie dumped a forehand into the net give Nadal a double break lead. After surrendering the break, Kyrgios called a medical timeout and had the trainer out doing work on his hip. The Aussie did not appear to be labouring too much in the following return game, pushing Nadal to 30-30, but the Spaniard still held for a 5-1 lead. Two games later, serving for the set, Nadal found himself down break point on three occasions. He saved all three before finally closing out the set 6-2 with a forehand winner.
King of Clay hangs on for victory
Back to back errors from Kyrgios to start the set put the Aussie under the gun immediately in the opening game once again, falling behind 30-40 and eventually facing a break point at 30-40. The Aussie managed to save it and went on to hold. But Nadal kept coming in the following game, again having a break point chance at 30-40 and had two more at 40-AD, finally breaking through on the third with a forehand winner down the line for a break lead after the ten-minute game.
The world number five had to battle through a multi-deuce game to consolidate the break but did eventually held without facing a break point. He had a chance to essentially end the match in the following game when he raced ahead 0-40, but Kyrgios saved all three break points and closed to 2-3. In the end, a single break was enough as Kyrgios could not solve Nadal’s serve in the final set, failing to reach break point in the decider as the seven-time Rome champion served out the match to 15 to seal the final set 6-4.
By the numbers
After a slow start, Nadal was the better player for most of the match. The Spaniard only faced four break points in the match, saving three of them with the lone break coming in the first game of the match. He backed it up by winning 71 percent of his first serve points. Nadal also poured the pressure on the Kyrgios serve, having 15 chances to break, although the Aussie saved 11 of them. Kyrgios only won 65 percent of his first serve points and 45 percent of his second serves.
Nadal will face a major test in the next round when he looks to claim his first victory over Novak Djokovic in nearly two years. The pair will do battle tomorrow in the quarterfinals.