MELBOURNE (AFP) – Nick Kyrgios said it’s “pretty cool” to be playing Rafael Nadal for a place in the Australian Open quarter-finals today, predicting a physical battle against “a special player”.
The two men have had a running feud since the outspoken Australian called Nadal “super salty” and his “polar opposite” last year after the Spaniard complained he “lacks respect”.
But Kyrgios was keen to hose down any differences and focus on the task ahead after battling through the longest match of his career to beat Karen Khachanov 6-2, 7-6 (7/5), 6-7 (6/8), 6-7 (7/9), 7-6 (10/8) on Saturday night.
“I don’t really dislike him. I don’t know him at all. Special tennis player. Don’t know him as a person. I’m sure he’s okay,” he said, adding that there was “a layer of respect” between them.
“I’m super-excited honestly. Playing one of the greatest tennis players on centre court at your own Slam, it’s pretty cool.
“Obviously it’s going to be another physical battle. Nothing comes easy with him. He had a relatively routine (third round) match, so he’s going to be feeling good. I’m looking forward to it. That’s why you play, I guess.”
Nadal earlier gave a cool response when asked whether he liked Kyrgios.
“When he does stuff that in my opinion is not good, I don’t like,” said 19-time Grand Slam winner and top seed. “When he plays good tennis and he shows passion for this game, he is a positive player for our tour.”
The pair have faced each other seven times before, with the world number one holding a 4-3 advantage.
Their last two encounters have been close affairs, including at Wimbledon last year when Nadal prevailed in a pulsating second-round match over four sets.
During the clash, the Australian ranted at the umpire and twice served underarm, infuriating the Spaniard. Afterwards he admitted he tried, and succeeded, in hitting Nadal with a stinging forehand.
“At the end of the day, we’re two different tennis players,” said Kyrgios.