Rafael Nadal quelled the challenge of a typically combustible Nick Kyrgios to reach the BNP Paribas Open semi-finals with a hard-fought 7-6 (7-0), 5-7, 6-4 win, as the Australian’s on-court behavior again came under scrutiny.
Nadal, the world No 4, kept his cool in the heat of the Californian desert to advance to the semis of the event regarded as the tennis calendar’s “fifth grand slam”. Meanwhile, Kyrgios struggled to control his temper and allowed repeated interruptions from the crowd to get under his skin.
He then courted controversy at the end of the match, when he smashed a racket on the ground which rebounded off the court and nearly struck a ball boy, prompting boos from the crowd.
Kyrgios later apologized, saying it was “was never my intention” to put the ball boy in danger, before making contact with him on social media and offering to send a racket.
During the match, Kyrgios’s concentration was disrupted on several occasions, and he became visibly and audibly riled by the noise from the stands. At one point, the Australian dragged the watching Hollywood actor Ben Stiller into the drama, pointing at the Zoolander star and rebuking a member of the crowd: “Do I tell him how to act?”.
Soon after, having been broken in the seventh game of the third set, Kyrgios’s temper flared again and at the change of ends he pleaded with the chair umpire, Carlos Bernardes, to do more to keep the boisterous crowd quiet during points.
“How long are you going to let that shit go on for?” Kyrgios said. “How long bro? How long? If you did something about it before now it wouldn’t have happened. Look at the score, look at it. Over and over and over again they’re doing it. Unbelievable job controlling the crowd. ”
From that point on, there was no looking back for Nadal as he wrapped up victory and booked a place in the semis against teenage compatriot Carlos Alcaraz, who later saw off British No 1 Cameron Norrie in straight sets.
“I think I played a good third set,” Nadal said in an on-court interview. “I was returning better, I was solid with my serve. Nick is one of these players that you’re going to have problems with when he’s motivated, so I’m happy for the victory. “
Kyrgios, the world No 132 and needing a wildcard to enter, made a mockery of his lowly ranking from early, breaking Nadal first and extending his run to 30 straight service holds at the tournament.
The 26-year-old fumed as he missed his chance to serve out the first set, smashing two rackets – handing the second to a child in the crowd.
After forcing a tiebreak, he lost it to love, handing Nadal the set with a code violation. Kyrgios snapped back at a crowd member as he waited for quiet on his serve, drawing the point penalty.
“When you do that I need to penalize you because it’s too loud,” umpire Bernardes told Kyrgios, who shook his head as he replied “unbelievable.”
The circus atmosphere required another intervention from Bernardes, who leaned out of his chair to address one man, saying, “There are 10,000 people who want to watch tennis here and you’re the only one who wants to scream like crazy. Please. ”
On the court, Kyrgios gathered his composure, closing out service games and disguised drop shots as he led 6-5.
At the change of ends, he kept engaging Bernardes on the raucous crowd, saying: “You see how it affects the players? You don’t protect the players from any of that stuff. “
After leveling his head, he also leveled the match with another piece of magic, slipping on his way to reach a drop shot before scrambling an overhead to win the second set.
The momentum was with Kyrgios in the third, with Nadal showing uncharacteristic sloppiness in the opening games. That all changed as the Australian’s head appeared turned by the crowd during the final games and he smashed another racket after shaking hands with Nadal. It bounced up and away, nearly striking a ball boy standing at the back of the court.
“It landed a meter from my foot and skidded and nearly hit him,” Kyrgios said. “I’m human. Things happen like that. Obviously it was a very misfortunate bounce. I think if I did that a million times over it wouldn’t have gone that way. “
Kyrgios acknowledged Nadal’s mental toughness in swinging the match his way.
“He played a few points well and he got out of it and that’s what he does,” Kyrgios said. “That’s what makes him great.”
Nadal said he didn’t see Kyrgios toss his racket after the match.
“I think Nick had a great attitude during the whole match in terms of fighting spirit, and of course he has his personality, his character,” Nadal said. “Sometimes he does things that I don’t like, but I respect because of different character, different kind of points of view, and different kind of education.”
Nadal’s victory was his 19th in succession this year, a run which has brought ATP titles in Melbourne and Acapulco and a record-breaking 21st slam at the Australian Open.
The 35-year-old will face teenage sensation Alcaraz in a generational battle on Saturday after the 18-year-old knocked out defending champion Norrie 6-4, 6-3 with a convincing and electrifying performance.
“It’s tough to play Rafa, but I will enjoy the day, enjoy the match. It’s not every day you play your idol, ”Alcaraz said after reaching his first ATP Masters 1000 semi-final. He also became the youngest Indian Wells semi-finalist since American Andre Agassi in 1988.
“I think he’s unstoppable in terms of his career,” Nadal said of Alcaraz. “He has all the ingredients, the passion. He’s humble enough to work hard.
“He’s going to be a great rival for now and for the next couple of months, without a doubt. Being selfish, it’s great to have such a star from my country … I wish him all the very best. ”