WIMBLEDON, England — It was a second-round match that Rafael Nadal admitted he would rather have avoided.
“I’m not going to lie,” Nadal said. “I prefer to play opponents who are not as difficult.”
But it was certainly better for the spectacle that is Wimbledon for Nadal and Nick Kyrgios to be facing off again on the same patch of Centre Court grass where Kyrgios rocked Nadal’s world in 2014 with a fourth-round upset.
The rematch was worth the wait. Kyrgios and Nadal explored the depths of their talents in a duel that had something often lacking in this memorable era in men’s tennis: an edge.
Kyrgios, a flickering flame from Australia, tends to run hottest on tennis’s big stages against its biggest stars. He was clearly inspired, prepared to push and provoke Nadal out of his comfort zone, but the unseeded Kyrgios seemed to run out of steam in the end.
This victory went to Nadal, 6-3, 3-6, 7-6 (5), 7-6 (3), and despite some doubts during the rematch about the nature of the handshake to come, it turned out to be much more civil than some of their other interactions throughout the late afternoon.
The two have criticized each other’s behavior in the past, most recently in the wake of their match in Acapulco, Mexico, in February. Kyrgios leveled his career record against Nadal at 3-3 in three tight and unpredictable sets in the quarterfinals, hitting an underhand serve and getting medical treatment.
Nadal said afterward that Kyrgios “was not a bad guy,” but said that he “lacked respect for the public, his rival and also himself, and that is what he needs to improve.”
Kyrgios has criticized Nadal’s speed of play and attitude in defeat. Before Thursday’s match, Kyrgios said he was “not sure that Rafa and me could go down to the Dog & Fox and have a beer together,” referring to a Victorian-era pub in Wimbledon.
Kyrgios did make a visit to the Dog & Fox on Wednesday night, but he and Nadal did not share the same space until Thursday.
The shotmaking was often spectacular in what was as much a contrast in personalities as it was a contrast in styles.
Kyrgios served 29 aces, one of them with an underhand serve in the first set that caught Nadal by surprise. Kyrgios also won another point with that tactic, which he is bringing into vogue. But above all, he relied on huge power and blasted one full-force forehand from the baseline directly at Nadal at the net.
Neither man had a break point in the final two sets, but Nadal was able to prevail in both tiebreakers and earn himself a spot in the third round against another dangerous opponent: Jo-Wilfried Tsonga of France.
Christopher Clarey has covered global sports for The Times and the International Herald Tribune for more than 25 years from bases in France, Spain and the United States. His specialties are tennis, soccer, the Olympic Games and sailing. @christophclarey
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