SF Preview: Rafael Nadal & Nick Kyrgios Renew ‘Mouth-Watering’ Rivalry In 10th Meeting | ATP Tour

Eight years after Wimbledon debutant Nick Kyrgios stunned Rafael Nadal in the 2014 fourth round, the two men will square off again Friday for a place in the 2022 title match.

Only three of their previous nine ATP Head2Head matchups were decided in straight sets, with three of their box-office contests coming at the majors and four at the ATP Masters 1000 level. But their 10th meeting is their most intriguing yet, such are the storylines woven through each man’s progress to the semi-final stage. (Learn how Nadal has built a 6-3 advantage in the rivalry.)

For starters, Nadal was not even sure that he would walk out onto Centre Court for the match following his quarter-final victory over Taylor Fritz. After delivering a Herculean effort to overcome an abdominal injury and twice come from behind in a five-set epic, the Spaniard could not confirm whether he would be fit to compete again in the semi-finals.

While he awaits further tests to reveal the extent of the injury, which primarily affected his serve against Fritz, he had no doubts about the level of his tennis from the baseline.

“I’m playing great,” he said. “I am enjoying a lot… If we put away the problems — something that’s difficult — the level of tennis, the feeling that I am having with the ball on my hand is honestly great. I am feeling myself playing very well.”

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Already the all-time leader with 22 Grand Slam men’s singles titles, Nadal is seeking more history this year. For the first time, he entered Wimbledon with a chance for the Grand Slam — an achievement not seen in men’s tennis since Rod Laver won all four majors in 1969. The success has come as a surprise even to Nadal, who feared he may have to retire in the months before the 2022 ATP Tour season.

“I have to say that I think unfortunately, or fortunately, I was able to manage, to improve and to adapt to the circumstances that my body presents to me to keep being competitive under any circumstances,” he said Wednesday. “I was able to improve my tennis depending on the needs. [It is] something that I am happy with.”

Kyrgios has also surprised himself with his performance this season, particularly at Wimbledon.

“I just never thought that I would be in the semi-finals at a Grand Slam. I thought that ship had sailed,” he said in his on-court interview. “I didn’t go about things great earlier in my career and may have missed my window. I am really proud of the way I have come back out here.”

Kyrgios, whose 12 grass-court wins this season lead the ATP Tour, reached the quarter-finals at Wimbledon in 2014 and at the Australian Open in 2015. But he had not been beyond the fourth round since. After struggling with depression and thoughts of self-harm, he nearly left the game. But he has been resurgent in 2022 since opening the year by winning the AO doubles title with his countryman and close friend Thanasi Kokkinakis.

“If you asked anyone if I was able to [reach a major semi-final] the last couple years, I think everyone would have probably said, ‘No, he doesn’t have the mental capacity, he doesn’t have the fitness capacity, he doesn’t have the discipline.’ All that. I almost started doubting myself with all that traffic coming in and out of my mind.

“I obviously had thoughts the last year, year and a half, [about] whether I wanted to play anymore. [I] lost the love, lost the fire, lost the spark. Then some things just changed in my life… I kind of just rediscovered that I’ve got a lot of people that want me to play, that I play for. I’ve got a lot left in the tank. I feel like I’m probably playing some of my best tennis, mentally [I’m] feeling great.”

Kyrgios described his career journey as “rocky”, a phrase which could also describe his progress through the Wimbledon fortnight. He survived a five-set opening match against Great Britain’s Paul Jubb, edged fourth seed Stefanos Tsitsipas in a controversial third-round match, then went the distance again to defeat #NextGenATP American Brandon Nakashima in the fourth round.

He earned his second straight-sets victory of the tournament in Wednesday’s quarter-finals against Cristian Garin, though he called the match “not easy at all” against an “extremely, extremely good” opponent.

It will likely only get tougher against Nadal in the semi-finals. Always one for the big stage, Kyrgios was relishing the opportunity even before Nadal completed his comeback on Centre Court.

“It would be pretty special to play Rafa here,” he said in his post-match press conference. “We’ve had some absolute battles on that Centre Court. He’s won one against me, and I’ve won one against him.

“Obviously, we know, [we are] two completely different personalities. I feel like we respect the hell out of each other, though. I feel like that would be a mouth-watering kind of encounter for everyone around the world.

“That would probably be the most-watched match of all time. I would argue that.”

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