Australian Open 2020: Emotional Nick Kyrgios falls short against Rafael Nadal

An emotional Nick Kyrgios says he drew on the spirit of Kobe Bryant in his bold bid to bring down Rafael Nadal at Melbourne Park.

The world No.1 Spaniard had to pull out all the stops to end Kyrgios's gallant Australian Open campaign 6-3 3-6 7-6 (8-6) 7-6 (7-4) in a compelling fourth-round affair on Monday night.

In a touching tribute to Bryant, Kyrgios entered Rod Laver Arena in an LA Lakers No.8 singlet, seemingly in tears, then used the NBA superstar's death as motivation to keep fighting to beat his bitter rival.

"It's horrible news," Kyrgios. "If anything, it motivated me.

"If you look at the things he stood for, what he wanted to be remembered by, I felt like, if anything, it helped me tonight.

"When I was down a break in the fourth, I was definitely thinking about it. I fought back."

A crusader for bushfire victims, donating $200 for every ace he hits, Kyrgios had played for higher forces all summer and said Bryant's death in a helicopter crash drove him against Nadal, despite backing up from the longest, most physically brutal match of his career in the third round.

"I mean, I'm a Celtics fan," Kyrgios said. "When I saw Kobe do what he does, break the hearts of so many Celtics fans, it was tough to see.

"I don't think they make them like him any more. He was different... the way he trained, the way he did things, the way he played - he was special.

"Just sad. Like, when I think about my life is literally basketball.

"When I think about it, it's heavy. It's tough."

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - JANUARY 27: Nick Kyrgios of Australia looks on during his Men's Singles fourth round match against Rafael Nadal of Spain on day eight of the 2020 Australian Open at Melbourne Park on January 27, 2020 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)
Photo credit: Getty
Rafa Nadal is into the quarter-finals
Rafa Nadal is into the quarter-finals Photo credit: Getty

Now without a quarter-final appearance at a Grand Slam in five years, Kyrgios said he was shattered to fall short once again at his home major.

"These are the matches that I want to win the most," he said. "But overall, this summer has been fun.

"I feel like I've made progress as a human."

The 24-year-old has also made progress in the rankings, with the one-time world No.13 projected to return to the top 20 for the first time since August, 2018.

Even Nadal, a long-time vocal critic, can see the strides he's made.

"When he is playing like today, with this positive factor, he gives a lot of positive things to our sport," Nadal said.

"I encourage him to keep working like that, because he is one of the highest talents.

"I saw him playing during the whole tournament, almost every match, and he has been great, with very positive attitude.

"Personally, I like to watch him play when he's doing that way. I think everybody likes to watch Nick play when he's able to play like this.

"His talent is to be one of the best of the world, without a doubt, with good chances to fight for every tournament."