Column: Rafael Nadal plays it cool in taking out Nick Kyrgios at Indian Wells

Rafael Nadal celebrates after defeating Nick Kyrgios.
Rafael Nadal celebrates after defeating Nick Kyrgios during a quarterfinal match in the BNP Paribas Open tournament on Thursday in Indian Wells.
(Marcio Jose Sanchez / Associated Press)

While Nick Kyrgios ranted, Rafael Nadal remained calm.

While the vastly gifted but explosively volatile Kyrgios threw his racket, scolded fans who told him how to play and repeatedly shouted at professionally proactive chair umpire Carlos Bernardes for not doing a perfect job of crowd control under imperfect conditions, Nadal went about his business. This season, Nadal’s business is winning.

Despite a chronically sore foot, despite the calendar showing that his 36th birthday is less than three months away, the gritty Spaniard extended his season start to 19-0 on Thursday with a 7-6 (0), 5-7, 6-4 victory over Australia’s Kyrgios in the quarterfinals of the BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells Tennis Garden. He was satisfied with his performance and with the result. He had every right to be.


“I enjoy these kind of matches. I enjoy the challenges,” Nadal said. “And today, I was able to keep going and that makes me happy and makes me proud.”

He and Kyrgios combined for nearly three hours of incredible shotmaking, brilliant rallies and high-level tennis that ended with Kyrgios — no stranger to tantrums and controversy — petulantly tossing his racket, which nearly struck a ball boy. The youngster wasn’t hurt, but Kyrgios was serenaded with a chorus of boos as he exited the court at Stadium 1.

“Just because I have an outburst doesn’t mean I’m not focused,” Kyrgios said during a combative news conference afterward. “Like, to be honest, if I was watching a little kid play and he was getting angry that he was losing it just shows that he cares. I would rather someone get angry that they’re losing than just cop it on the chin. Did you ever look at it from that way?”

Rafael Nadal outlasted Reilly Opelka 7-6 (3), 7-6 (5) to reach quarterfinals at Indian Wells on Wednesday.

March 16, 2022

Nadal, who will face 18-year-old Spanish compatriot Carlos Alcaraz in a semifinal Saturday, exited the court to an adoring ovation he usually gets. He earned it Thursday.

Kyrgios, whose serve exceeded 140 mph several times, gained an early break when Nadal double-faulted in the third game of the first set. But Nadal broke back for 5-5 when Kyrgios hit a forehand long. Nadal dominated the tiebreak, clinching it when Kyrgios was penalized a point for an audible obscenity.

“I felt like, honestly, I was the one to end the streak. I felt like I was playing well. I felt like I did everything right in the first set that I planned to do,” Kyrgios said. “I sat down with my coach, myself, and I had a game plan, and everything was working. Two points away from the first set, I don’t know how he got out of that game.


“He’s too good, I guess. He played a few points well and he got out of it and that’s what he does. That’s what makes him great.”

The second set went on serve until Kyrgios made a good get to earn the break and the set. Nadal broke for 4-3 in the third set when Kyrgios double-faulted. Not long after that — and after actor Ben Stiller had been shown on the video board sitting among the crowd — Kyrgios got into a discussion with a fan. “Why are you speaking?” Kyrgios said to the fan. “Do I tell him [Stiller] how to act? No.”

Nick Kyrgios tosses his racket after losing a point to Rafael Nadal.
Nick Kyrgios tosses his racket after losing a point to Rafael Nadal during a quarterfinal in the BNP Paribas Open tournament on Thursday in Indian Wells.
(Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

Nadal is not a racket-tosser, not a crowd baiter. It’s not his personality. And he has no animosity toward Kyrgios. “In some way I like him like a character,” Nadal said.

But Nadal’s family impressed on him when he was young that he wouldn’t be allowed to break rackets, and he quickly realized playing angry wouldn’t get him where he wanted to go. He has never forgotten that.

“I always have a very basic point of view and it’s do the things that [are] going to help you to play better or to win more,” Nadal said. “You can be sad, you can be very upset, but if that helps you to play better or to win more, do it. But it’s not my case. So when I am upset or I lost my concentration, I say, I am not this kind of guy. I, normally I am not, I don’t behave much, no, I like to be in a positive way, not a negative way. But not on the tennis court, in my normal life, too.”


The storyline of Nadal facing a kid nearly half his age in the semifinal will be compelling.

Alcaraz dismantled defending tournament champion Cameron Norrie of Britain 6-4, 6-3 on Thursday, a match Nadal watched on TV after his own match had ended.

The BNP Paribas Open has shown optimism that the next wave of American men tennis players will be competitive against the world’s best.

March 15, 2022

Alcaraz is the future, but Nadal is very much dominant in the present.

“Of course, it’s going to be a great rival for now and for the next couple of months, without a doubt,” Nadal said. “But thinking and being selfish, it’s great, honestly, to have such a star from my country, because we, for the tennis lovers, we’re going to keep enjoy an amazing player fighting for the most important titles for the next, I don’t know how many years, a lot of years.

“That’s my feeling, from my point of view. That’s fantastic for the tennis lovers and he’s a countryman and he’s a great guy. So I like him. I wish him all the very best. Probably not after he plays against me, but in general.”