Nick Kyrgios aims to stay positive after loss to Rafael Nadal in Australian Open

Nick Kyrgios has had a taste of being the hero rather than the pantomime villain and found it to his liking.

RESPECT DUE: Rafael Nadal shakes hands with Nick Kyrgios after their encounter in Melbourne. Picture: AP/Andy Brownbill
RESPECT DUE: Rafael Nadal shakes hands with Nick Kyrgios after their encounter in Melbourne. Picture: AP/Andy Brownbill

The volatile Australian came into his home grand slam on a wave of positivity thanks to his efforts leading tennis’ response to the wildfire crisis and carried that through to the end of a narrow defeat by Rafael Nadal in the fourth round.

Kyrgios walked out onto Rod Laver Arena wearing a Los Angeles Lakers vest as a tribute to Kobe Bryant and took inspiration from the basketball great as he battled to keep his run going.

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In the end he fell just short, losing 6-3 3-6 7-6 (6) 7-6 (4) despite a home crowd cheering him to the rafters – something that certainly has not always happened.

DOWN AND OUT: Nick Kyrgios falls as he attempts to return a shot to Rafael Nadal in Melbourne. Picture: AP/Andy Wong

Kyrgios said: “I’m shattered to have lost. Obviously these are the matches that I want to win the most. But, overall, this summer has been fun.

“I feel like I’ve made progress as a human. A tennis player, I don’t really care about as much. But I feel good. I want to keep going in this direction, for sure.

“The trouble for me is being able to actually just produce the same attitude over and over again. Hopefully, I can keep doing it. I’m just taking it day by day, trying to be positive, just bring positive vibes.”

The scoreline was the same as in their second-round clash at Wimbledon last summer but this time the tennis took centre stage.

Switzerland's Stan Wawrinka celebrates during his fourth round singles match against Russia's Daniil Medvedev in Melbourne. Picture: AP/Andy Brownbill

The SW19 showdown had a real edge to it after some very public needle, with Nadal accusing Kyrgios of lacking respect following a feisty match in Acapulco and the Australian branding his opponent “super salty” in an interview on the No Challenges Remaining podcast.

“I felt a lot closer this time, especially in the 5-5 game in the third set, where I was at deuce a couple of times,” he said. “He played some unbelievable points. I felt like, if I got that third set, I would have really, really been on top of him.”

After a subdued start, the home star roused himself at the start of the second, saving a break point with the help of a tweener and then leaping and punching the air with delight when he broke the Nadal serve.

The third set was the peak of the contest, with Kyrgios doing all he could to flummox Nadal, mixing explosive ground strokes with slow balls, forehand slices, drop shots, an underarm serve and everything in between.

The tie-break saw Kyrgios smash a racket and miss a 135 miles per hour second serve at 5-5, only for Nadal to double fault after a momentary disruption because of a crying baby.

But Kyrgios netted a forehand on the Spaniard’s second set point and, although he broke Nadal when he served for the match at 5-4 in the fourth, the world No 1 prevailed in another tie-break.

“When he’s 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 highest talents that we have on our tour and I like the Nick Kyrgios during the whole of this tournament,” said Nadal.

The top seed next faces Dominic Thiem, who was hugely impressive in a 6-2 6-4 6-4 victory over Gael Monfils to reach the last eight here for the first time.

The other quarter-final in the top half of the draw will pit 2014 champion Stan Wawrinka against seventh seed Alexander Zverev.

Wawrinka is working his way back to the top of the game following knee surgery in 2017 and he claimed one of the best wins since then, beating fourth seed Daniil Medvedev 6-2 2-6 4-6 7-6 (2) 6-2.

The veteran Swiss said: “I think last time I played so well was before the surgery. I’m really happy again the way I’m fighting, the way I’m finding solutions and the level of the game.”

Zverev arrived in Melbourne in poor form and with his serve apparently in crisis but is yet to drop a set, with his latest triumph a 6-4 6-4 6-4 success against Andrey Rublev.