INDIAN WELLS, Calif. — Rafael Nadal defeated Nick Kyrgios 7-6(0), 5-7, 6-4 on Thursday to reach the BNP Paribas Open semifinals in a match featuring obscenities, underhand serves, a penalty point and smashed rackets.
Nadal improved to 19-0 this year, the third best start to the season since 1990.
“I’m happy with that third set because it wasn’t easy after the second set was over. It was terrible for me,” he said. “But I hold it emotionally and mentally, I think I was ready to keep fighting.”
After the post-match handshake, Kyrgios walked to his seat and smashed his racquet on the court. He bounced and stalked away, nearly hitting a standing ball boy in the back of the field. Kyrgios left to a mixture of boos and cheers.
“He landed a yard from my foot and skidded and almost touched it,” Kyrgios said. “I’m human. Things happen like that. Obviously, it was a very unfortunate rebound. I think if I had done that a million times, it wouldn’t have happened like that.”
Nadal was on his side of the pitch and said he didn’t see Kyrgios throw his racket after the game.
“I think Nick had a great attitude the whole game 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 respect because of his different character, different views and different upbringing.”
Trailing 0-6 in the first set tiebreaker, Kyrgios was serving when the chair umpire awarded him a penalty point for an audible obscenity towards a fan, giving Nadal the set. Kyrgios dropped the balls he was holding and walked calmly to his seat.
In game six of the first set, Kyrgios was leading 40-love when serving underhandedly. Nadal stepped in and hit a forehand winner down the line. Kyrgios responded with a 140mph ace to go up 4-2. He also had a 3-1, 5-3 lead in the set.
Nadal won three straight games to lead 6-5 in the first. During the substitution, Kyrgios angrily threw his racquet away. He gave the twisted racquet to a young boy in the stands.
“I was two points from the first set and I felt like if I had won that first set, the way I was playing, I could have run away,” Kyrgios said. “So obviously I was frustrated, but it was a hell of a game.”
At the start of the second set, the chair umpire berated a man in the stands who repeatedly shouted, “Nick! Nick!” The referee said, “Ten thousand people want to watch tennis and you’re the only one screaming.” The man whispered. Later, the referee told the crowd not to shout between the first and second serves.
Tied 3-all in the second set and serving at 40-love, Kyrgios served a sneaky ace to go up 4-3. They stayed on serve until Kyrgios broke Nadal in the 12th game. Nadal’s soft shot surprised Kyrgios and the Australian went wild with an F-bomb during the point. He recovered to make the comeback, Nadal fired him and Kyrgios won the set with a leaping backhand volley.
Tied 2-all in the third, Kyrgios engaged with a spectator seated next to actor Ben Stiller. Uninterested in the man’s suggestions on how to play, Kyrgios replied that he hadn’t told Stiller how to act.
“When you’re a spectator watching professionals play tennis, you should just shut up,” Kyrgios said. “Like, sit back and enjoy the show. I thought it was a really high level game and I’m just asking for some respect.”
The interaction did not deter the Australian. He fought off a break point and took a 3-2 lead with back-to-back aces at 140mph and 137mph.
Kyrgios double faulted on a play point to lead 4-3. Kyrgios held on to lead 5-4, but Nadal closed the 2 hour and 46 minute game serving a love game. He set up match point with a 116 mph ace, then hit a forehand winner on a short ball.
“He played a few points well and he got away with it and that’s what he does,” Kyrgios said. “That’s what makes it great.”
Nadal will face the future in the semi-finals. He will face fellow Spaniard Carlos Alcaraz, 18, who beat defending champion and No. 12 seed Cameron Norrie, 6-4, 6-3.
Alcaraz have reached their first Masters 1000 semi-final, having won 17 of their last 18 games. He is coming off a tournament title in Rio de Janeiro last month.
Defending champion Paula Badosa qualified for the semi-finals with a 6-3, 6-2 win over Russia’s Veronika Kudermetova. Badosa will next face No. 6 seed Maria Sakkari, who beat Elena Rybakina, 7-5, 6-4.
The other semi-final will pit No. 3 Iga Swiatek against 2015 champion Simona Halep.