Rafael Nadal-Nick Kyrgios Wimbledon semifinal a must-watch
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What do you get when you toss two feral cats in a bag with some grass clippings?

Rafael Nadal versus Nick Kyrgios at Wimbledon.

The highly anticipated matchup of firebrands was sealed Wednesday, when the Aussie Kyrgios won a routine three-set match, 6-4, 6-3, 7-6 (5), over Cristian Garin and Nadal battled it out for five physical sets with American Taylor Fritz, turning the 11th seed back 3-6, 7-5, 3-6, 7-5, 7-6 (10-4) after a fifth-set tiebreaker and more than four hours.

Nadal was clearly suffering from pain during his match Wednesday and could potentially withdraw from the tournament. Let’s hope he sticks it out, though, for the soap opera drama alone.

Still, it’s hard to envision him not taking the court against Kyrgios.

The prickly pair’s semifinal, if it happens, has all the makings of a classic — like the original “Halloween” or “House of 1,000 Corpses.” We will shield our eyes. No bystander will be spared. Blood will be spilled on the meticulously mowed grass of the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club.

Rafa and Nick, ya see, have a beef (or as Rafa would say, a carne) that has gone on for so long its origins are shrouded in mystery, like the ancient grudge of William Shakespeare’s Montagues and Capulets.

Rafale Nadal and Nick Kyrgios
Rafale Nadal and Nick Kyrgios
Shutterstock; Getty Images

But the first blow likely came in 2014 when Kyrgios (then ranked No. 144 in the world) made his name at 19 years old by beating Nadal (No. 1) on Wimbledon’s storied Centre Court. A shocker, sure, but hardly venomous.

Five years later, though, when he vanquished Nadal again in Acapulco, Mexico, the stewing Spaniard let loose. “He lacks respect for the crowd, his opponent and towards himself,” Nadal railed after the match.

What really rankled Rafa was Kyrgios using the infamous underhand serve to befuddle him. It’s a perfectly legal shot that is more commonly employed by weakling 8-year-olds.

What also grinds Nadal’s gears is how Kyrgios plays at a rapid clip, as if he has a flight to catch with his model girlfriend. Nadal, on the other hand, frivolously tugs at his socks and underwear for what feels like a half hour before every point and still hilariously views himself as a torchbearer of tennis decorum.

I was at Wimbledon a few months later in 2019, holding my breath in terror when Kyrgios threw an underhand serve at Nadal again. The British crowd, drunk on excitement and Pimm’s, applauded and booed. Nadal scowled in anger as though the Wicked Witch of Mallorca. When Kyrgios swatted a ball directly at Nadal’s body, the tennis court turned into “Divorce Court.”

Kyrgios was more subdued when they played the Australian Open in 2020 — which means he broke a racquet, yelled at the chair umpire and ended the night with his hand covered in blood.

But don’t expect any such emotional restraint this week! He’s got Nadal on the noggin. In June, when Kyrgios took on Stefanos Tsitsipas in Halle, Germany, and received a time violation warning, he furiously said: “This happens every match. I’ve waited so many times for Rafa.” Nadal, meanwhile, was probably hundreds of miles away tanning on his mega-yacht.

The timing of their meeting couldn’t be more suspenseful.

Kyrgios knows it’s now or never. He has gathered recent momentum — increasingly rare for the unpredictable 27-year-old — after winning the doubles title at the Australian Open and enjoying a stellar grass-court season. This will be his first-ever grand slam semifinal on his favorite surface.

There are formidable stakes, too, for Nadal, nearing the end of the road at 36. So far this year, he has won the Australian Open (his first since 2009), the French Open (his 14th) and is well on the way to doing what Novak Djokovic could not and securing the calendar Grand Slam. Rafa will also want to ensure that the Djoker doesn’t chip away at his record 22 grand slam trophies.

Take those enormous consequences for both men and add in the fact that they mutually loathe each other and the fury on display will be John McEnroe’s “You cannot be serious!” times a trillion.

Think tennis is some polite country club affair? Watch Wimbledon on Friday.

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