WIMBLEDON, England — It was Wednesday night on center court, and Rafael Nadal was back in the semi-finals of Wimbledon after proving once again that his pain threshold and ability to improvise under duress are well above the rest. beyond the norm.
Taylor Fritz was in his chair, thinking about what could have been and feeling that no defeat had ever hurt as much as this one because he wanted to burst into tears.
“I never felt like I could cry after a loss,” said Fritz, the 24-year-old American rising star who won’t go higher at the All England Club this year following Nadal’s 3-0 win. 6, 7-5. , 3-6, 7-5, 7-6 (10-4).
A quarter-final thriller, it lasted 4 hours 21 minutes and could have lasted a little longer had it not been for the new rule at Wimbledon this year which requires a tiebreaker from first to 10 to be played at 6 -6 in the fifth series. English football stalwart David Beckham, looking delighted from the royal box, might have preferred the penalty shootout.
Fritz, a thunderous server who can also hammer his groundstrokes, upset Nadal to win the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, Calif., in March in a match Fritz played with an injured ankle and Nadal played with a stress fracture in his rib cage.
Fritz was on course for a more significant breakthrough on Wednesday and eventually picked up as many points as Nadal (168 each). But for all of Fritz’s power and hustle, he couldn’t earn the points that mattered most; he couldn’t capitalize on Nadal’s abdominal injury or a two-sets-to-one lead. He quickly lost command of the decisive tiebreaker, falling 0-5 behind as Nadal invoked the shooting and trickery that made him a 22-time Grand Slam singles champion.
“Rafa did what Rafa does: he understands things,” said Paul Annacone, one of Fritz’s coaches. “He determines what he has for the day and he never makes it easy for the opponent. That’s why he is the most accomplished guy in the history of tennis so far.
Nadal, still in pursuit of the Grand Slam at 36, will face Australian Nick Kyrgios, another big server with a much more volatile personality, on Friday for a place in the men’s singles final.
In Friday’s other semi-final, No. 1 seed Novak Djokovic, three-time defending Wimbledon champion, will face No. 9 seed Cameron Norrie, the last remaining British singles player.
The question is whether second-seeded Nadal will be healthy enough to play. Nadal said he was close to withdrawing from the game after aggravating the lower abdominal injury midway through the first set. But even without a full-strength serve and even with his father and sister urging him from the stands to step down, Nadal, as so often, found the solutions he needed to win even though he had no looking much more optimistic than Fritz when he arrived for a sotto voce press conference.
“It’s obvious that today is nothing new,” he said of the injury. “I had these feelings for a few days. Without a doubt, today was the worst day. There was a major increase in pain and limitation. And that’s it. I managed to win this game. Let’s see what happens tomorrow.
He said he would undergo further tests on Thursday before deciding whether to return to center court to face Kyrgios, who upset him on the same pitch when they first met in 2014 in the round of 16. Nadal has won six of their eight games. other matches, including a tense second-round duel at Wimbledon in 2019 in which Kyrgios deliberately landed full-cut pass shots to Nadal’s body and felt no need to apologize.
“Nick is a great player on all surfaces, but especially here on grass,” Nadal said. “He is having a great season on grass. It’s going to be a big challenge. I have to be 100% to keep getting chances, and that’s what I’m going to try to do. »
Nadal is clearly tired of talking about his body, tired of dealing with the injuries that have kept cropping up during his on-and-off sensational season.
“If it’s not one thing, it’s another,” Nadal said.
For the first time in his long career, Nadal won the first two Grand Slam tournaments of the season, the Australian Open and the French Open. No man has completed a Grand Slam, winning all four majors in the same year, since Rod Laver in 1969, but Nadal kept his bid alive with Laver, 83, watching from the royal box.
Nadal succeeded by settling for a much slower serve which Fritz said caused him more problems than Nadal’s full-strength delivery. Nadal cautiously left the field for a medical timeout with a 4-3 lead in the second set and said he received anti-inflammatory medication and treatment from a physiotherapist.
“Throughout the whole first set and the whole second and a lot of the third, the problem was not just the serve but that if I served I could feel the pain for the rest of the point and I couldn’t play it normally. “, did he declare. Explain. “It took a while to figure it out.” His average serve speeds on Wednesday were 107 miles per hour for first serves and 94 miles per hour for second serves, up from 115 and 100 in the previous round. But once he adjusted, he said he no longer had lingering discomfort in rallies and felt uninhibited on his groundstrokes.
“For many moments I thought maybe I wouldn’t be able to finish the game,” he said, addressing the crowd on center court. “But, I don’t know, the pitch, the energy, whatever, so yeah, thank you for that.”
Nadal hasn’t always been the crowd favorite at Wimbledon, where longtime rival Roger Federer has long played that role. But Federer, 40, is not playing here this year, and Nadal, back for the first time since 2019, has received plenty of positive feedback as he bids to win Wimbledon for the third time.
He pushed on Wednesday, tied the match at two sets apiece, then broke in the fifth to take a 4-3 lead, only to lose his own serve in the next game. But as the match stretched past four hours, he regained control and finished the win with a classic forehand winner from inside the baseline, with his bolo-whip finish behind his left ear.
It was a Wimbledon full of surprises. Before it started, the All England Club banned Russian and Belarusian players due to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Three top players – Matteo Berrettini, Marin Cilic and Roberto Bautista Agut – have withdrawn after contracting the coronavirus.
But Nadal and Djokovic are still in contention down the stretch, as is Simona Halep, a former No.1 who won Wimbledon in 2019 and is in fine form with the help of her new coach, Patrick Mouratoglou. Halep, a Romanian, will face Elena Rybakina of Kazakhstan in the semifinals on Thursday. Ons Jabeur, the Tunisian No. 3 seed, will face Tatjana Maria, a German seeded No. 103 who was the biggest surprise of the women’s tournament.
Last year, Fritz nearly stunned Djokovic before losing in five sets in the third round of the Australian Open in a match in which, strangely but true, Djokovic suffered an abdominal injury. The scenario against Nadal must have felt excruciatingly familiar, and he said his biggest regret was not pushing Nadal harder the three times Nadal served to stay in the game.
“At the end of the day, he was just really, really, really good,” Fritz said. “Parts of the game, I felt like maybe I just needed to do more, do more. I left a lot to him, and he delivered.