In losing to Nick Kyrgios and then branding him disrespectful, Rafael Nadal showed two things: fear and his own lack of respect for the Aussie.
Kyrgios deserves better.
During what was an epic week for the Australian — who claimed his fifth ATP Tour title in Acapulco as he beat world No. 2 Nadal, No. 9 John Isner and No. 3 Alexander Zverev in the final, as well as three-time grand slam winner Stan Wawrinka — Nadal decided to highlight the Australian’s “lack of respect” after his round two loss.
Kyrgios is brash, controversial and at times every bit the bad boy of the ATP Tour. But still, from Nadal, it seemed an unnecessary verbal volley.
“He lacks respect for the crowd, his opponent and towards himself,” Nadal said of Kyrgios.
“I don’t think he’s a bad guy, but he lacks a little respect for the public and the rival.”
Unfortunately, the comments diminished Kyrgios and his amazing performance against Nadal.
Nadal has always been a class act and full of praise for his rivals, win or lose, which made it so surprising he would take aim at the lightning rod for criticism that is the 23-year-old Australian.
In winning the match Kyrgios came back from three match points down against a man considered one of the best to ever wield a racquet. Almost anyone else would have been lavished with praise for that but instead Kyrgios was pilloried.
Kyrgios responded to Nadal’s claims and brought up, as he often does when his back is truly against the wall, a valid point about his rival — that Nadal bends the rules of the game himself.
“The way he plays is very slow in between points. The rule in the book says he has to play to the speed of the server, but Rafa has his speed every time, so I’m not going to comment on him,” Kyrgios said,
Truth bomb dropped.
And despite the fact Nadal is claiming Kyrgios is disrespectful to the fans and his opponents, in that way arguably so is Nadal — if you’re not ready to play, you’re flaunting the rules.
And Nadal is a master at that.
Against Kyrgios, who is a quick player who often races through rapid service games, there were several times when the Australian was forced to wait for Nadal to ready himself as part of his routine. Perhaps one needs to question whether that’s fair to Nadal’s opponent or respectful of the laws of the game.
Moreover, perhaps Nadal’s decision to attack Kyrgios comes because he’s wary of what Kyrgios is and what he represents — a changing of the guard.
Nadal, like Roger Federer, has long sat atop the tennis world and while so many of Kyrgios’s generation — as I wrote during the Australian Open — seem to be in awe of the top dogs and almost give them too much respect, Kyrgios does not.
He’s not afraid to take it to them as evidenced by his stunning records against the game’s elder stars. Against Novak Djokovic Kyrgios is 2-0, against Nadal he’s 3-3, against Federer he’s 1-3 and the young gun is tied at 3-3 with Wawrinka.
It’s an enviable record and maybe as retired Aussie tennis star Sam Groth suggested Nadal also never took kindly to being upstaged at Wimbledon by a teenage Kyrgios back in 2014.
“I don’t think Rafa really likes Nick very much,” Groth told RSN radio on Monday. “Nick burst onto the scene beating Rafa at Wimbledon so I think there’s probably been something there from day one.
“To be honest, they’re 3-3 head-to-head now and I don’t think there are too many guys in the world Nadal would have a 50-50 record against.
“He probably just doesn’t like it very much.”
Maybe Nadal’s criticism of Kyrgios was also part frustration from the Spaniard, who knows the physical game he has played for so long has taken its toll on his body. It again appeared that way when Djokovic smashed him 6-3 6-2 6-3 in the Australian Open final.
Maybe the 3-6 7-6 (7-2) 7-6 (8-6) loss to Kyrgios in Acapulco showed the rest of the young gunslingers on tour there is no longer anything to be afraid of with Nadal and that he is in fact mortal.
And maybe that tennis mortality has him nervous. But even so it doesn’t excuse his pot shot at Kyrgios, but rather goes a long way towards explaining it ahead of Indian Wells this week — where with any luck the pair may meet again.
And with more good fortune, perhaps as Kyrgios alluded to on Monday, he might be over the mental demons that have plagued him.
He said his title win was “hopefully an example for people who are struggling and getting in some places you don’t think you can get out of. If I can do it, you can do it”.
“I was really down and out and didn’t know what I was going to do, but you have a week like this and things can change,” Kyrgios said.
If the week in Mexico is the making of Kyrgios or just another false dawn we will soon find out but even taking into account his polarising ways, he deserves more respect than what he got in Acapulco.