Rafael Nadal quelled the challenge of a typically combustible Nick Kyrgios to reach the BNP Paribas Open semi-finals with a hard-fought 7-6 (7-0), 5-7, 6-4 win at the Indian Wells Masters tournament.
Nadal, the world No 4, kept his cool in the heat of the Californian desert to advance to the semis of the event regarded as the “fifth grand slam”. Meanwhile, Kyrgios struggled to control his temper and allowed repeated interruptions from the crowd to get under his skin.
Kyrgios’s concentration was disrupted on several occasions, and he became visibly and audibly riled by the noise from the stands. At one point, the Australian dragged the watching Hollywood actor Ben Stiller into the drama, pointing at the Zoolander star and rebuking a member of the crowd: “Do I tell him how to act?”.
Soon after, having being broken in the seventh game of the third set, Kyrgios’s temper flared again and at the change of ends he pleaded with the chair umpire, Carlos Bernardes, to do more to keep the boisterous crowd quiet during points.
“How long you going to let that shit go on for?” Kyrgios said. “How long bro? How long? If you did something about it before now it wouldn’t have happened. Look at the score, look at it. Over and over and over again they’re doing it. Unbelievable job controlling the crowd.”
From that point on, there was no looking back for Nadal as he wrapped up victory and booked a place in the semis against the winner of the last-eight clash between British No 1 Cam Norrie and Carlos Alcaraz of Spain.
Kyrgios, the world No 132 and needing a wildcard to enter, made a mockery of his lowly ranking from early, breaking Nadal first and extending his run to 30 straight service holds at the tournament.
The 26-year-old fumed as he missed his chance to serve out the first set, smashing two rackets – handing the second to a child in the crowd.
After forcing a tiebreak, he lost it to love, handing Nadal the set with a code violation. Kyrgios snapped back at a crowd member as he waited for quiet on his serve, drawing the point penalty.
“When you do that I need to penalise you because it’s too loud,” umpire Bernardes told Kyrgios, who shook his head as he replied “unbelievable”.
The circus atmosphere required another intervention from Bernardes, who leaned out of his chair to address one man, saying: “There are 10,000 people who want to watch tennis here and you’re the only one who wants to scream like crazy. Please.”
On the court, Kyrgios gathered his composure, closing out service games and disguised drop shots as he led 6-5.
At change of ends, he kept engaging Bernardes on the raucous crowd, saying: “You see how it affects the players? You don’t protect the players from any of that stuff.”
After levelling his head, he also levelled the match with another piece of magic, slipping on his way to reach a drop shot before scrambling an overhead to win the second set.
The momentum was with Kyrgios in the third, with Nadal holding serve with uncharacteristic sloppiness in the opening games. But that all changed as the Australian’s head appeared turned by the crowd during the final games.
Nadal’s victory was his 19th in succession this year, a run which has brought ATP titles in Melbourne and Acapulco and a record-breaking 21st slam at the Australian Open.
While Kyrgios fell short against Nadal, he will leap in the rankings after a productive tournament, projected to be world No 101 by week’s end.
Kyrgios, a wildcard entry, beat Sebastian Baez, Federico Delbonis and world No 8 Casper Ruud en route to the quarter-finals, all in straight sets, also benefitting from a walkover from Janek Sinner.