January 23, 2020
Rafael Nadal and Nick Kyrgios are still on a collision course after their respective victories in the Australian Open.
A much-anticipated fourth-round clash looks even spicier after the Aussie’s latest antics.
Kyrgios responded comically to a time violation during his four-set win over Gilles Simon.
He imitated the idiosyncrasies of Nadal’s much lengthier habitual service build-up.
Why Kyrgios seemed to be asking, was he being penalised when Rafa sometimes seems to take forever to deliver?
Even the umpire who had just penalised Kyrgios burst out laughing at the Nadal impression.
But it didn’t change the violation.
Nadal won’t be too thrilled at the latest teasing from a player he has long considered to be disrespectful.
But the tennis-loving public will mostly rub their hands with glee as the rivalry is dialled up once more.
Matches between Kyrgios and Nadal are always edgy thrillers. Their showdown at Wimbledon last summer was one of the best of the entire tournament.
Rafa only won in four sets with the help of two tie-breaks that time.
Nick would dearly love revenge on home soil.
Kyrgios v Nadal in Melbourne – and they both need to win one more match to make it happen – would be the talk of the town.
Rafa didn’t look too troubled against Federico Delbonis, despite being taken to a second-set breaker.
The Argentine underdog had plenty of problems with his serve – hardly surprising with such a strange action.
Nadal, in stark contrast, never came under any serious pressure on his.
Rafa wasn’t so clever when it came to converting breakpoints, though. That’s why he took a while to come through 6-3, 7-6 (7-4), 6-1.
Nadal will need to get much more ruthless Down Under if he is to equal Roger Federer’s twenty Slams.
But he won fresh hearts in Melbourne for his compassion when his forehand down the line struck a ball-girl towards the end.
Not only did Rafa stop to ask if she was OK. He also gave her a kiss on the cheek and a little gift.
There was loud applause for both Nadal and the ball-kid.
The Spaniard said: ‘For her it was probably not a good moment, I was so scared for her but she was super-brave.’
Asked if his wife would be jealous about the kiss, Rafa joked: ‘After fifteen years I don’t think she cares very much.’
So what do we make of the Big Three so far at the Australian Open?
Roger Federer looks incredibly fit and sharp.
Nadal is playing well within himself. He remains a threat if Kyrgios can’t stop him early.
But Novak Djokovic will continue to build momentum and take some beating. The Aussie Slam, we all know, is the one where he has enjoyed the most success.
Rafa admitted: ‘I’m just happy to be a part of this very special time in tennis with Novak Roger and many others.’
Other hopefuls will feel they are still in the fight after doing battle on Day 4.
Dominic Thiem trailed by two sets to one against Australia’s Alex Bolt. But the Austrian turned on the power when he needed it.
Alexander Zverev progressed with ease but Stan Wawrinka needed five sets to see off Andreas Seppi.
Meanwhile, British interest in the singles has come to an end early in Melbourne.
Harriet Dart did at least earn an interesting review from reigning Wimbledon champion Simona Halep, who beat her 6-2, 6-4.
The 23-year-old Brit pushed Halep hard in the second set and came from 0-4 down to almost level it at 5-5.
The world number three admitted that Dart had created a ‘dangerous’ situation as the Romanian lost focus.
Halep said that, although Dart didn’t possess great power, she used ‘good angles.’
In fact, the Londoner slugged it out and even came out on top in several spellbinding rallies.
If Dart can continue to work on her serve, core strength and mobility, she could go deeper in big tournaments. She could even make a big impression on the top one hundred.
Sadly Heather Watson didn’t impress quite so much against Elise Mertens.
The Belgian was in devastating form but Watson was far too accommodating with some of her gentle returns.
Mertens lapped them up and breezed through 6-3, 6-0.