INDIAN WELLS, Calif. — Rafael Nadal defeated Nick Kyrgios 7-6 (0), 5-7, 6-4 Thursday to reach the semifinals of the BNP Paribas Open in a match featuring obscenities, underhand serves, a point penalty and smashed rackets.
Nadal improved to 19-0 this year, the third-best start to a season since 1990.
« Happy about that third set because it wasn’t easy after the end of the second. It was terrible for me, » he said. « But I hold it emotionally, and mentally, I think I was ready to keep fighting. »
So was Kyrgios.
After the post-match handshake, Kyrgios walked to his seat and smashed his racket on the court. It bounced up and away, nearly striking a ball boy standing at the back of the court. Kyrgios walked off to a mix of boos and cheers.
« 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. »
Nadal was on his side of the court and 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. »
Trailing 0-6 in the first-set tiebreaker, Kyrgios was serving when the flesh umpire assessed him a point penalty for an audible obscenity to a fan, giving Nadal the set. Kyrgios dropped the balls he was holding and calmly walked to his seat.
In the sixth game of the first set, Kyrgios led 40-love when he served underhanded. Nadal stepped up and bashed a forehand winner down the line. Kyrgios responded with a 140 mph ace to go up 4-2. He also had leads of 3-1 and 5-3 in the set.
Nadal won three straight games to lead 6-5 in the first. On the changeover, Kyrgios angrily tossed his racket. He gave the bent racket to a young boy in the stands.
« I was two points away 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 with it, » Kyrgios said. « So obviously, I was frustrated, but it was a hell of a match. »
Early in the second set, the chair umpire scolded a man in the stands who repeatedly yelled, « Nick! Nick! » The umpire said, « Ten thousand people want to watch tennis and you’re the only one screaming. » The man piped down. Later, the umpire told the crowd not to yell out between first and second serves.
Tied 3-all in the second set and serving at 40-love, Kyrgios served an underhanded ace to go up 4-3. They stayed on serve until Kyrgios broke Nadal in the 12th game. Nadal’s drop shot caught Kyrgios by surprise and the Australian let loose with an F-bomb during the point. He recovered to make the return, Nadal sent it back and Kyrgios won the set with a leaping backhand volley.
Tied 2-all in the third, Kyrgios engaged with a spectator sitting next to actor Ben Stiller. Uninterested in the man’s suggestions on how to play, Kyrgios replied that he didn’t tell Stiller how to act.
« When you’re a spectator and you’re watching professionals play tennis, you should just be quiet, » Kyrgios said. « Like, just sit and enjoy the show. I thought it was a pretty high level match and I’m just asking for a little bit of respect. »
The interaction didn’t determine the Aussie. He fought off a break point and took a 3-2 lead with back-to-back aces at 140 mph and 137 mph.
Kyrgios double faulted on game point to trail 4-3. Kyrgios held to lead 5-4, but Nadal closed out the 2-hour, 46-minute match by serving a love game. He set up match point with a 116-mph ace and then hit a forehand winner off a short ball.
« 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 will face the future in the semifinals. He’ll play 18-year-old fellow Spaniard Carlos Alcaraz, who beat defending champion and No. 12 seed Cameron Norrie, 6-4, 6-3.
Alcaraz reached his first Masters 1000 semifinal, having won 17 of his last 18 matches. He’s coming off a tournament title in Rio de Janeiro last month.
Defending women’s champion Paula Badosa advanced to the semifinals with a 6-3, 6-2 win over Veronika Kudermetova of Russia. Badosa next plays No. 6 seed Maria Sakkari, who defeated Elena Rybakina, 7-5, 6-4.
The other semifinal features No. 3 Iga Swiatek against 2015 champion Simona Halep.