MELBOURNE (AFP) – Firebrand Nick Kyrgios scraped past Karen Khachanov last night in five thrilling sets to set up a grudge match against top seed Rafael Nadal in the Australian Open fourth round.
The Australian showman came through a tense battle with the Russian 16th seed after four hours 26 minutes in front of passionate home support on Melbourne Arena to win 6-2, 7-6 (7/5), 6-7 (6/8), 6-7 (7/9), 7-6 (10/8).
“Mate, it was crazy, I don’t even know what to say right now, it was insane, I have no words for how I’m feeling right now,” said Kyrgios.
“This is epic, man, I don’t even know what’s going on,” he added. “He’s (Khachanov) an absolute warrior.”
It sets up a mouthwatering clash with the world number one Nadal, who romped past fellow Spaniard Pablo Carreno Busta 6-1, 6-2, 6-4.
Kyrgios, who was handed a 16-week suspended ban last September after a string of indiscretions, disparagingly labelled Nadal “super salty” last year, and mimicked his serving routine during the second round at Melbourne Park.
But Kyrgios tried to play down the feud with Nadal yesterday, saying, “He has a winning record against me. Whatever happens between us, he’s an amazing player, he’s arguably the greatest of all time.”
Asked about 23rd seed Kyrgios after his match, Nadal was also diplomatic.
“When he plays good tennis and he shows passion for this game, he is a positive player for our tour. When he’s doing the other stuff, of course I don’t like.”
Kyrgios admitted he was on the verge of going “to a very dark place” in his second-round clash against Gilles Simon before refocussing.
And he mostly held it together against Khachanov, before a blow-up at the umpire in set four over a time violation.