Nick Kyrgios believes a layer of respect exists between himself and Rafael Nadal, but he would not go as far as to say he likes the world No. 1 ahead of their Australian Open meeting.
After both players won their third-round matches Saturday, they will do battle in the pick of the fourth-round matches Monday (Sunday in the U.S.).
Nadal cruised to a 6-1, 6-2, 6-4 win over fellow Spaniard Pablo Carreno Busta, while Kyrgios overcame Karen Khachanov 6-2, 7-6(5), 6-7(6), 6-7(7), 7-6(8) in an incredibly close contest lasting four hours, 26 minutes.
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Kyrgios has won three of his seven meetings against Nadal in a rivalry that stepped up a gear at last year’s Mexican Open when words were exchanged after a match the Australian won.
After his straightforward win in Melbourne, Nadal said he was unsure whether he likes the 24-year-old Kyrgios, though conceded his involvement in the sport can benefit the ATP Tour.
“I don’t know. I don’t know him personally, honestly, to have a clear opinion,” Nadal told reporters. “It’s clear, of course, that when he does stuff that in my opinion is not good, I don’t like.
“When he plays good tennis and he shows passion for this game, he is a positive player for our tour, and I want my tour bigger, not smaller.
“So the players who make the tour bigger are important for the tour. When he’s ready to play his best tennis and play with passion, is one of these guys. When he’s doing the other stuff, of course I don’t like.”
When it was Kyrgios’ turn to face reporters, he referenced the duo’s battle at Wimbledon last year, which Nadal won in four close sets.
“Last time I played him was at Wimbledon,” said Kyrgios, “we had a pretty good match, 7-6 in the fourth set.
“At the end of the day, we’re two different tennis players. We go about it completely different. After Wimbledon, I lost, I got beaten by the better player.
“I shook his hand, looked him in the eye, and said, ‘Too good.’ Regardless, if we don’t like each other or whatever, I think there’s a layer of respect. He’s one of the greatest of all time.
“I also read that he thinks I’m good for the sport. There’s a layer of respect that we both have for each other. Doesn’t necessarily mean we like each other, but we’re going to go out there and give contrasting styles and personalities.
“I don’t really know Rafa. I’ve never hung out with him or anything like that, so I don’t really know how he is. I don’t really dislike him. I don’t know him at all. Hell of a tennis player. Don’t know him as a person. I’m sure he’s OK.”
Kyrgios believes Nadal will have a physical advantage after having an easier route through to the last 16 but is not overly concerned, also saying his hamstring is better after he felt it against Khachanov.
He added: “Physically, I think I’ll be fine. I have a whole day off [Sunday]. Get some rest after this, do all the right things. I’m super excited, honestly. Playing one of the greatest tennis players on center court at your own slam, it’s pretty damn cool.
“I’ve got a lot of time between now and then. Obviously it’s going to be another physical battle.
“Nothing comes easy with him. He had a relatively routine match, so he’s going to be feeling good. I’m looking forward to it. That’s why you play, I guess.”
Kyrgios has a 2-1 record against Nadal on hard courts.
“Ever since juniors I enjoyed playing lefties,” he said. “I feel like I kind of know what game plan I need to bring to be successful against them.
“Rafa is a different beast altogether. I kind of know his patterns. Everyone knows his patterns, can’t do anything about it. Federer knows his patterns. Everyone knows his patterns. He executes them at the highest level.
“I feel good, like I feel like my game is ready to go. But it was crazy [against Khachanov]. I don’t think the emotions have died down at all.”
Sacha Pisani at Melbourne Park contributed to this report.