MELBOURNE, Australia — Rafael Nadal defused the most unpredictable threat in men’s tennis on Monday, defeating Nick Kyrgios 6-3, 3-6, 7-6 (6), 7-6 (4) in the fourth round of the Australian Open.
As at Wimbledon last year, it was a duel full of emotion, all-court athleticism and entrancing shots.
As at Wimbledon, the key swing in momentum came in the third-set tiebreaker, when Nadal was able to dodge the myriad dangers that the gifted, volatile Kyrgios can generate.
The final score was nearly identical to the one at Wimbledon, where Nadal won 6-3, 3-6, 7-6 (5), 7-6 (3).
But that match had an edge that its counterpart on Monday in Rod Laver Arena did not.
Kyrgios, the No. 23 seed from Australia, arrived on court fighting back tears while wearing a No. 8 Los Angeles Lakers jersey in honor of Kobe Bryant, who died in a helicopter crash on Sunday in the United States.
Kyrgios warmed up in the jersey before removing it and, after a downbeat start, he soon lifted his game and grunted and hustled until the finish, repeatedly pushing and pressuring Nadal, the world No. 1.
“In the beginning, I was a little bit under control, but you know against Nick you are never under control,” Nadal said.
It did not come down to much, but Nadal, true to his career, showed the greater resilience.
He double-faulted on set point at 6-5 in the third-set tiebreaker but quickly rebounded to win the next two points and the set.
He served for the match at 5-4 in the fourth set and was broken, double-faulting again in the game and losing it as Kyrgios took full cuts at his strokes.
But Nadal held firm once more, despite the crowd support for Kyrgios, and was able to close out the victory in the tiebreaker.
“Well, what can I say again about Nick?” Nadal said. “I think when he is playing like today with this positive attitude he gives a lot of positive things to our sport. So I encourage him to keep working like this because he is one of the highest talents we have on our tour. I like the Nick Kyrgios during this whole tournament.”
Nadal will face Dominic Thiem, the No. 5 seed, in the quarterfinals on Wednesday. He and Thiem faced each other in the last two French Open finals, with Nadal winning on both occasions. The other quarterfinal in the top half of the draw will match No. 7 Alexander Zverev against No. 15 Stan Wawrinka, a former Australian Open champion who defeated No. 4 Daniil Medvedev, 2-6, 6-2, 6-4, 6-7 (2), 6-2 on Monday.
It has been a tournament brimming with epic men’s matches, including Kyrgios’s five-set victory over Karen Khachanov in the third round, an emotional journey that lasted four hours and 26 minutes.
But Kyrgios still had enough energy to pose a serious threat to Nadal, who is now just three victories away from tying Roger Federer’s record of 20 Grand Slam men’s singles titles.