By Jane Voigt
It happened again. To Rafael Nadal.
He was favored to win the Australian Open final in January. Yet Stan Wawrinka managed an upset. Today, the young Australian Nick Kyrgios pulled the grass right out from under Nadal. They weren’t contending a title, but the ripples of defeat are of great magnitude.
“Kyrgios is the first teen to defeat World No. 1 at a slam since Nadal achieved the feat when he defeated [Roger] Federer at 2005 Roland Garros,” ESPN Tennis reported.
A complete circle.
“I tried. I lost,” Nadal told the press. “That’s the easiest way to explain it. It’s not a drama.” Scoreline: 76(5) 57 76(5) 63.
The defeat goes against the grain. In the past, like before today when tennis history was written, if Nadal made the second week of Wimbledon, he would skip the light fantastic to the final.
The effect is much the same as when Federer lost to Jo-Wilfred Tsonga in the 2011 quarterfinals on these same lawns. Federer was on the doorstep of his 24th consecutive semifinal at a major. Up two sets, cruise control about to engage. Then Tsonga shifted gears. He danced around that green court as if he were auditioning for an Irish step-dance ensemble.
We know what comes next for Rafa. Media scrutiny. Perhaps he should talk with Roger about how to handle the emotions, the barrage of opinion, and the doubt that may already have seeped into his mind — the worst fallout of defeat.
Nadal, though, came to The All England Club with no grass-court match preparation. He won his 9th Roland Garros and flew straight to Halle, Germany, and the Gerry Weber Open. He had promised them and had failed to keep that promise for a couple years. He couldn’t do it again. But he lost in round one, obviously fatigued.
He lost the first sets of all his matches over the past 9 days, too. Sooner or later that repetitive glitch alone would have caught up to him. But no one considered the possibility the curve ball would come off Kyrgios’ racquet.
DownTheTee’s correspondent, Joe Nardini Jr., did see the possibility of an upset. “Guys like that give Rafa a lot of trouble, especially on grass. If Nick doesn’t psych himself up too badly, he could be trouble for Nadal.”
The tournament saw it coming, too, although odds were not in the Aussie’s favor. The risk was revealed when Kyrgios beat Richard Gasquet in five sets, saving 9 match points. That’s when the Australian press named him, ‘Nine Lives Nick.’
Today he repeated himself.
“Kyrgios’ serve is really keeping him in the match,” Nardini said. “He’s handling the nerves and pressure situations great. He’s also not running for certain balls in Nadal’s serve games. That means he is trying to conserve energy so he can continue to hold his massive serves.”
Kyrgios smacked 37 aces over four sets, which keeps him atop the ace leader-board with 150. Milos Raonic (No. 8) walloped 35 aces in his victory against Kei Nishikori today. Added to his previous total, the Canadian comes in second in the ace race with 145. Kyrgios plays Raonic in the quarterfinals.
Australian tennis certainly must be on a high tonight. Like the United States, Australia has felt the embarrassment of lost star power as the international tennis scene expanded. It watched as fresh talent from every corner of the globe came up the ranks while Australia’s own legends have started to fad, for example, Lleyton Hewitt and Samantha Stosur. Aussies have a proud tennis history, one that is incomparable. And, now they have Nick.
To put this in more perspective, David Law, tennis journalist, wrote on Twitter, “Nick Kyrgios was nine months old when 19-year-old Mark Phillippoussis beat No. 1 Pete Sampras 64 76(9) 76(3) at the Australian Open.”
A complete circle.
Rafael Nadal is a champion for many reasons. The foremost one — his mind. He concentrates well and moves along mentally in matches. That’s what Kyrgios did today, too. “Nick is focusing on the present, his service games,” Nardini Jr. added. “He’s not letting anything distract him.”
Belief lifted Nick from start to finish today, too. “You gotta believe,” he told ESPN. Funny, the night before his mother told him how proud she was, but “Nadal was a bit too good.”
“Oh, I don’t know what that was about,” Kyrgios said. “She can think what she wants.”