December 9, 2023

Wimbledon, England – The Grand Slam looked for Rafael Nadal on Wednesday at Wimbledon, but he kept his quest alive by battling through an abdominal injury and back to beat rising American star Taylor Fritz, 3-6, 7-5, 3-6 , 7-5, 7-6 (10-4).

A thriller from the quarter-finals, it lasted 4 hours and 21 minutes and might have taken a little longer if not for the new rule at Wimbledon this year that requires a tiebreaker from the first to 10 points to be played at 6-6 in the fifth set.

Fritz, the 24-year-old from California in the midst of a great season, was on the cusp of the most important victory of his career. But despite his power and hustle, he couldn’t hold a 2-set-to-one lead and quickly lost control of the crucial tiebreak, trailing, 0-5, as Nadal called up the shot that made him 22. Grand Slam singles champion.

Nadal, playing his first Wimbledon tournament since 2019, is now back in the semi-finals, where he will face Australian Nick Kyrgios, another big server with a more volatile personality.

“I hope to be ready to play it; that is the first thing,” Nadal said in his court interview. “Nick is a great player on all surfaces but especially here on grass. He is having a great season on grass. It will be a huge challenge. I need to be at 100 per cent to keep getting chances, and that is what I will try to do.”

Nadal looked as though he might have been on the verge of withdrawing from the match in the second set on Wednesday when he left center court on a timeout for treatment for what he described as a lower abdominal injury. His service speeds and level of play declined for some time, and his father Sebastian; Sister Maria Isabel; And the agent, Carlos Costa, at one point seemed to urge him to stop.

Nadal said he considered it. “For a few moments, I was thinking maybe I won’t be able to finish the match,” he said, speaking to the central stadium crowd. “But, I don’t know, the court, the power, is something else, so yeah, thanks for that.”

Nadal wasn’t always the crowd favorite at Wimbledon, as longtime rival Roger Federer played the role. But Federer is not playing here this year, and Nadal, who is back after a three-year hiatus, heard little to no cheers and chants as he hurriedly tried to find the shape of the grasscourt.

And he pressed on Wednesday, equalizing the match with two sets each, then cutting a break in the fifth set to advance 4-3, only to lose his serve in the next match. But with the match running for four hours, he regained control and finished off the win with a classic forehand from inside the baseline, complete with his polo whip behind his left ear.

In Friday’s other men’s semi-final, top seed Novak Djokovic, three-times Wimbledon champion, will face ninth seed Cameron Norrie, the last British player left in singles.

Wimbledon has been full of surprises. Before it began, the All England Club banned Russian and Belarusian players due to the invasion of Ukraine. Three prominent players – Matteo Berrettini, Marin Cilic and Roberto Bautista Agut – have withdrawn after contracting the coronavirus.

But Nadal and Djokovic are still in contention heading down the house.

For the first time in his long career, Nadal won the first two Grand Slam tournaments of the year, the Australian and French Open. No man has completed a grand slam, winning all four major slams in the same year, since Rod Laver in 1969, and Nadal kept his bid with Laver, now 83, watching from the royal box.

Nadal’s duel with Fritz was a flashback to their bout earlier this year at the BNP Paribas Open final in Indian Wells, California.

Fritz won that match, 6-3, 7-6 (5), the biggest title of his career, but both men were far from the most appropriate. Fritz played after injuring his ankle in the previous round. Nadal played with what turned out to be a stress fracture in one of his ribs, which limited his ability to serve and ground strikes with full force.

On Wednesday, Fritz arrived with his left thigh blocked, Nadal left center court for a medical while leading, 4-3, in the second set and back on the turf, managing to finish the second set.

He wore a patch on his lower stomach during the tournament that appeared to be an anti-inflammatory adhesive. When asked about it ahead of the quarter-finals, he refused to discuss the injury in detail.

“I’m a little tired to talk about my body,” Nadal said, apparently tired of it already.

And Nadal continued, “But I’m in the middle of the tournament, and I have to keep going, right? All due respect to the rest of the opponents. I’m just trying my best every day. Right now, I’m healthy enough to keep fighting for the things I want.”

So it remains, even if defusing the Kyrgios is quite a challenge.

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