First set: de Minaur 2-1 Nadal* (*denotes server): Woof! De Minaur climbs all over Nadal’s second serve, smashing it with both feet off the ground miles inside the baseline, and he follows that up with a blistering inside-out forehand down the line to go up 0-30. Nadal responds with trademark intensity, winning four points in a row with steadily increasing force to get on the scoreboard. There was something ominous in watching the Spaniard go through the gears so quickly, like Concorde idling on the runway then busting through the speed of sound with power and grace.
First set: de Minaur* 2-0 Nadal (*denotes server): Both men trade forehand winners down the line to show that this could be a high-quality duel, but Nadal then drops his guard again, struggling with his returns and hitting wide without facing pressure. De Minaur can’t capitalise, dumping game point into the net.
The Australian doesn’t let it get to him, rattling a 151kph forehand winner then testing Nadal on both flanks until he provokes a mistake. The demon defends his early break.
First set: de Minaur 1-0 Nadal* (*denotes server): It doesn’t take long for the demon to state his intentions, crafting a point in the manner of David Goffin in his upset over Nadal, picking his time to attack, and attacking hard, turning two baseline rallies to his advantage and shifting 15-0 to 15-30. An early unforced error then hands Australia two break points! And a second unforced error gift-wraps it for them. What a start! Nadal broken in his opening game, de Minaur buzzing around the court like Billy Whizz, and the crowd on its feet.
The players are out, warming up, and we’ll be underway shortly in what could turn into the biggest night of de Minaur’s career; or just another day at the office for Nadal.
If the opening match was hard to call before it got underway, there’s no doubting the second rubber looks lopsided on paper. World number one, 19-time grand slam champion, and recent Davis Cup Finals winner Rafael Nadal, against 20-year old world number 18 Alex de Minaur.
They’ve met twice before, Nadal winning both in straight sets, most recently at last year’s Australian Open.
No worries Australia, Alex de Minaur only has *checks notes* Rafael Nadal to beat to keep Australia afloat.
Roberto Bautista Agut beats Nick Kyrgios 6-1 6-4 (Spain 1-0 Australia)
The lazy narrative (that I’m sure we’ll seen soon enough) would be all about Nick Kyrgios choking, smashing his racquet or failing to live up to the hype, but he was simply outplayed by a superb top-ten opponent whose discipline, patience, and defensive brilliance controlled the match as soon as it began. Vamos Roberto Bautista Agut.
Second set: Kyrgios 1-6 4-6 Bautista Agut* (*denotes server): A nervous hum shakes around Ken Rosewall Arena when RBA makes a rare unforced error to gift Kyrgios 0-15. The Spaniard is soon back on his own terms through, ascending to 30-15 with a superb forehand winner down the line. That becomes 40-15 following his latest demonstration of defensive excellence, meaning two match points. He only needs one. Roberto Bautista Agut wins in straight sets.
Second set: Kyrgios* 1-6 4-5 Bautista Agut (*denotes server): For the umpteenth time tonight Kyrgios is 0-30 down on his normally dominant serve, that soon becomes 15-40 and Bautista Agut has two match points. Not for long, Kyrgios kabooms consecutive aces to take the game to deuce. Make that a hat-trick! But RBA remains impassive and whips a forehand down the line with masses of side-spin that swings into the corner to return us to deuce.
Another big serve gives Kyrgios another game point but this time he slaps a forehand into the gutter with the game begging. He makes no mistake at the third time of asking, but Bautista Agut still has the match on his racquet.
Second set: Kyrgios 1-6 3-5 Bautista Agut* (*denotes server): RBA eases to another game by applying his tried and trusted method of inviting Kyrgios to hit tennis balls across the net until one misses the court. Get this – Bautista Agut has made only 5 (five) unforced errors all match; two in the first set, three in this. Superb tennis from the Spaniard. Kyrgios now serving to stay in it.
Meanwhile, US Open champion, and one of the pre-tournament favourites, Bianca Andreescu, has just pulled out of the Australian Open.
Second set: Kyrgios* 1-6 3-4 Bautista Agut (*denotes server): Kyrgios is again faced with 30-30 on his own serve after cruising through the tournament off his own racquet. A rasping ace – his eighth, to RBA’s four – hands him game point, then a second obliterates any lingering tension.
Second set: Kyrgios 1-6 2-4 Bautista Agut* (*denotes server): Racquet smashing has been a feature of this event and Kyrgios’s latest indiscretion you have to put as much down to the infuriation he must be feeling playing an opponent so relentless – and calm with it. For a firebrand like Kyrgios it must seem so alien.
The Australian starts the following game well, and he’s deep into his work at 30-30, forcing RBA to run miles to keep in touch, but the Spaniard holds firm. Kyrgios does force deuce next point though but again wastes a golden opportunity, dumping a backhand volley into the net after attacking ferociously to force his man a half-step off his game. The same tactic pays dividends next time, earning a second deuce, and the crowd responds. For perhaps the second time tonight there’s a glimmer of some form and energy coming from Kyrgios, and he converts it into an advantage after an unusually unrythmical rally. But he can’t convert, despite diving full length (and taking some skin off his elbow) to reach a drop shot.
Now the longest game of the match, Bautista Agut is under rare pressure, but he releases it all with a serve right down the centre line, then orchestrating a trademark rally until Kyrgios falters. Massive, massive hold for Spain.
Second set: Kyrgios* 1-6 2-3 Bautista Agut (*denotes server): Nobody could possibly read Kyrgios’s serve better than Bautista Agut is doing tonight. He’s all over the Australian again to put the pressure on at 0-30 but Kyrgios puts his foot on the gas to get back level, but he clips one of his flicked skidding forehands wide with the court begging to concede a breakpoint – and RBA accepts it! Kyrgios thought he had deuce but his almost-ace was called a let, forcing another serve which Bautista Agut returned, naturally, and by the end of a skittish rally Kyrgios was demolishing his racquet by the back of the court. Advantage Spain.
Second set: Kyrgios 1-6 2-2 Bautista Agut* (*denotes server): Bosh! Finally Kyrgios wins one of those long rallies to even things up at 15-15, but boy did he have to work hard to win the point. A couple of deep backhand slices – a la Barty – and a couple of rasping forehands engineer some space and the Australian makes no mistake putting the finish away. Another rally follows and Kyrgios again goes to the backhand slice, and this time RBA goes long. Is a change of momentum brewing? Not decisively. Kyrgios fought hard to earn deuce, but once there Bautista Agut closed the door.
Second set: Kyrgios* 1-6 2-1 Bautista Agut (*denotes server): 0-30 on the Kyrgios serve results in a despondent Canberran holding out his hands as if to say “what can I do?”. What he can do is continue to serve like a man with a rocket launcher on his shoulder and smash monster forehands from the baseline until RBA fails to deal with one. Four points in a row has the crowd on its feet and Lleyton Hewitt giving his charge the eyes – that’s right, those eyes – and telling him to get his head up.
We might have a match on our hands after all.
Second set: Kyrgios 1-6 1-1 Bautista Agut* (*denotes server): Bautista Agut is driving Kyrgios to distraction. When the Australian goes for the corners, the Spaniard is there, when there’s a rally RBA is patient, when there’s an opening he hits it with surgical precision. Kyrgios is throwing everything at him but Spain win the game to love.
Second set: Kyrgios* 1-6 1-0 Bautista Agut (*denotes server): This is a game loaded with significance. Kyrgios has to start the second set strongly on his own serve – and he does – doubling his match total of aces on his way to 40-15 then finding a very handy second serve that Bautista Agut sends long to take the upper hand in the set.
Bautista Agut is playing at the top of his game, Kyrgios well under, and this is one-way traffic.
First set: Kyrgios 1-6 Bautista Agut* (*denotes server): Spain take the opening set in just 30 minutes, Bautista Agut sealing the deal with the most straightforward service game of the night so far.
Can Kyrgios respond?
First set: Kyrgios* 1-5 Bautista Agut (*denotes server): Finally a couple of quick cheap points on the Kyrgios serve to get the crowd involved. Is Bautista Agut fazed? Of course not. He’s immediately back in his zone, imitating a massive brick wall that just returns whatever is smashed at it. 30-30 arrives eventually, aided by a brilliant RBA drop, but Kyrgios kicks away with just his second ace of the night and finally, to the delight of Ken Rosewall Arena, he finishes off the game after punishing the ball deep into Bautsita Agut’s forehand corner often enough for the Spaniard to relent.
First set: Kyrgios 0-5 Bautista Agut* (*denotes server): Kyrgios needs to find a spark from somewhere, but he slips to 0-30 without so much as a rally and 0-40 when he dumps his latest backhand into the net after his monster forehands failed to pierce RBA’s armour. Kyrgios is hitting harder and harder, practically hitting the sponsor’s logo from the ball, but Bautista Agut is unmoved, calmly returning the ball away from his territory like a series of instructional videos. Kyrgios does whistle one winner past to earn 15-40 but the game is over soon after.
Hats off to RBA, this is pristine tennis, neutralising his big hitting opponent.
First set: Kyrgios* 0-4 Bautista Agut (*denotes server): This is not looking good for Australia. Kyrgios slips to 0-30 after first trying to over-egg a winner before the wall that is RBA returned enough shots destined for cheers that Kyrgios lost his flow. A superb winner down the line gives Spain two break points at 15-40 but the Australian finally finds his range with his serves to claw back to deuce.
Again, a desperate, lunged return from RBA forces Kyrgios into hitting a winner, and once again he misses, trying to find the extra inch he requires to beat the defensive masterclass. And from the third break point Bautista Agut makes it count! Kyrgios looking bewildered as he fails to connect with a volley drilled at him at the net.
First set: Kyrgios 0-3 Bautista Agut* (*denotes server): Bautista Agut has started superbly. Nothing flash, no highlight reel winners, just efficiently putting the ball back across the net time and time again, making Kyrgios hit shot after shot and inevitably drawing the error. 40-0 arrives without the Spaniard breaking sweat, at which point Kyrgios begins muttering out loud. An ace seals the deal at 40-15. Kyrgios, and Hewitt, have some thinking to do. They need to figure out how to shorten the points and unsettle Bautista Agut’s rhythm.
First set: Kyrgios* 0-2 Bautista Agut (*denotes server): Kyrgios eases to 30-0 with some forehands that he hits with such rotation from the hips he practically corkscrews himself into the court. Consecutive errors at the net bring RBA back to 30-30, the second of which the product of a miraculous backhand return. Another long rally earns Spain a break point – and Bautista Agut takes it! What a shock! Kyrgios, who has barely lost serve all tournament, is behind the eight ball already. Silence in Sydney.
First set: Kyrgios 0-1 Bautista Agut* (*denotes server): A gentle opening point leads to the barest ripple of applause for Spain but the volume goes up a factor of decibels when Kyrgios finishes a long rally to make it 15-15. 30-30 offers a sniff to Kyrgios but the second prolonged backhand-to-backhand exchange of the game ends with the Australian finding the net. Bautista Agut isn’t given an easy hold though when Kyrgios ups his pace to force a deuce-inducing error.
Another long rally, this time much more expansive, again ends with Kyrgios planing a backhand into the net. This looks to be the tone of RBA’s service games, methodical, conservative baseline hitting. It’s a risk-reward because if he does that too long there’s every chance Kyrgios will try something audacious – and succeed – as he does with a whipcrack crosscourt forehand from the corner – or fail – as he does with a backhand down the line that leaks wide. Bautista Agut then does hold, after an age.
An atmosphere not felt in Australia since the Sydney Olympics, says Todd Woodbridge courtside.
While Kyrgios is inevitably the player to catch the eye, his opponent boasts a higher ranking, a longer streak of good form and the kind of hard working all-round game tailor made for team tennis.
Roberto Bautista Agut has been ranked inside the top 30 since 2014, winning titles in five of the past six seasons. A career breakthrough arrived last year when he reached the semi-finals at Wimbledon, earning points that vaulted him from the fringes of the top 20 to the verge of the top ten. He eventually crossed that threshold a few weeks later, capping a consistent campaign by helping Spain secure the inaugural Davis Cup Finals in Madrid.
Head-to-head: Kyrgios and Bautista Agut have only met once before on the ATP Tour with the Australian coming out on top. However, it was five years ago, so it’s hard to read too much into it.
Where will the opening rubber be won and lost? If Kyrgios brings his A game on serve he’s a handful for anybody, and he has brought his A game to the ATP Cup so far in his three unbeaten singles matches, dropping serve only twice and leading the tournament for aces (57).
The ATP has published some more scary numbers, including 62 per cent (103/65) of Kyrgios’s first serves going unreturned, with that figure standing at 37 per cent (21/57) for second serves, miles ahead of his nearest rivals.
Despite an official ranking of 29, the 24-year-old is rated sixth by the ATP Tour for his ability to handle pressure situations (converting and saving break points, winning tiebreaks, and winning deciding sets). For comparison, numbers one and two on that list are Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.
Ken Rosewall Arena looks like it’ll be full tonight, meaning the best part of 10,000 fans in attendance. Most of them cheering on Australia, you’d expect.
Before the anthems there’s a touching presentation to Australian legend Tony Roche, recipient of the inaugural Tim Gullikson Career Coach Award, a gong created by the ATP Tour to recognise the influence of coaches in tennis.
Not far away now. The teams are making their way out onto the court at Ken Rosewall Arena.
This is not ATP Cup related, but another reminder that Madison Keys is a good egg. She’s also very good at tennis, and will take on Naomi Osaka or Karolina Pliskova in tomorrow’s Brisbane International final.
The longer this delay drags on, the more likely I am to discuss Rafa’s hair situation. It’s something I’ve felt strongly about for some time.
Some questions, while we wait for the second semi to get underway: Have you enjoyed the ATP Cup? Has it felt like a men’s World Cup of tennis? Is it a good lead in to the Australian Open? Is it better than the Hopman Cup / Brisbane & Sydney Internationals?
Answers to [email protected] or @JPHowcroft please.
Conditions: After the stifling heat and humidity of earlier rounds conditions are clement under the canopy of Ken Rosewall Arena. The temperature will be in the low 20sC while the air quality – still far from ideal – is an improvement on recent days courtesy of a southerly breeze.
The good news is the changeover from the opening semi to the second can now take place after Serbia completed a clean sweep over Russia with victory in the doubles. We’re not going to hit a 6.30pm start, but we shouldn’t be delayed by too long.
Australia are flying high after their spectacular quarter-final victory over Great Britain. Nick Kyrgios stole the show, especially with his bear-hugging celebration on court with doubles partner Alex de Minaur.
On the topic of scheduling, we’re witnessing a potential snafu right now with the final rubber of the Serbia v Russia semi-final still occupying Ken Rosewall Arena. Serbia are already through after winning both singles rubbers but this dead doubles encounter is going to delay the start of the second semi. By how much, who knows? It’s currently on serve early in the second set tiebreak with Serbia up one set.
Nadal credited some of his poor form in the quarter-finals to the long journey east to Sydney from Perth. His lament will be familiar to fans of Australian team sports for whom the challenge is a seasonal occurrence.
That’s these three hours’ time changing, different weather conditions, playing against a team that have been here for the last ten days, and we are the only team coming from Perth and playing until the last day of Perth and arriving here during the evening with jet lag, with everything. And today we had very heavy conditions out there, so probably we had the worst situation possible to play this tie.”
Hello everybody and welcome to live game-by-game coverage of the second ATP Cup semi-final between Australia and Spain from Ken Rosewall Arena in Sydney. Action gets underway at 6.30pm local time.
As I’m sure you’re aware by now these ties are a best of three affair with two singles rubbers followed by a doubles. The opening singles contest pits Nick Kyrgios against Roberto Bautista Agut. After that Alex de Minaur has the unenviable task of taking on world number one Rafael Nadal. The doubles line-ups are subject to change, so we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.
The line-ups are mouth-watering, but the pairings have robbed us of the box office bonanza that Kyrgios v Nadal would have generated. There is famously no love lost between the two.
Both nations arrive in the semis after scraping through nail-biting quarter-finals. Australia’s last gasp victory over GB ignited the tournament and reinforced the value of team tennis to the Australian sporting psyche. Spain also relied on a doubles tiebreak to progress, downing Belgium after Rafael Nadal was upset by David Goffin.
Whoever wins tonight already knows they face Novak Djokovic’s Serbia in Sunday’s decider.
If you would like to join in the conversation, please send your emails to [email protected] or tweets to @JPHowcroft.