An injured Rafael Nadal somehow managed to continue his quest to secure a historic Calendar Slam in 2022 after he roared back to beat Taylor Fritz in a marathon quarter-final.
It took all of Nadal’s famous mental strength and physical resilience to come through the encounter with a scoreline of 3-6 7-5 3-6 7-5 7-6 to reach the semi-finals, where he will face Nick Kyrgios in what should be a fascinating match-up.
Having lost the first set on Wednesday afternoon, Nadal suffered an abdominal strain that left him in real pain midway through the second set and though the Spaniard said he had considered retiring, he managed to pull through despite the pain.
Nadal said: “The body in general is fine. Of course the abdominal something is not going well, I had to find a way to serve a little bit different, for a lot of moments I was thinking I will not be able to finish the match but the court energy was something else.
“I honestly enjoy a lot playing these kind of matches, in front of you guys, I can’t thank you enough. It has been a tough afternoon playing, he [Fritz] is a great player, all the credit to him, he’s been playing great the whole season.
“From my personal side it was not an easy match at all, so I’m just very happy to be in the semi-final.
“I hope to be ready to play it. Nick is a great player on all surfaces but especially on grass, he is having a great grass-court season.
“It’s going to be a big challenge and I’m going to need to be at my 100 per cent to have a chance, and that is what I’m going to try to do.”
The second seed, who was looking to win his third Grand Slam singles title in succession after his incredible triumphs at the Australian Open and French Open already this year, took a medical timeout at 4-3 up in the second set.
He managed to return to the court after leaving to receive treatment in the locker room, but he was not able to move freely and it appeared to be only a matter of time until the inevitable handshake at the net.
Nadal showed his usual determination and resolve and attempted to keep the points short, throwing everything he could at the American from the back of the court.
Incredibly, the 36-year-old somehow managed to win the second set after all of his struggles minutes earlier as he suddenly stamped his authority on proceedings from 5-5 to stun Fritz.
While Fritz restored his advantage by winning the third set, Nadal again produced an astonishing recovery as he won the fourth set 7-5 before holding himself together to win the extraordinary match in a final set tie-break after four hours.
It was a match that had everything, and the momentum swings started from ball one as Nadal came out all guns blazing at the start of the first set to race into a 2-0 lead.
You’d never have said that in the remainder of the set Nadal would win just one more game, but that was what happened as Fritz wrestled his way back into the contest, breaking back in the sixth game, and then again in the eighth to romp away with it, 6-3.
A shock appeared on the cards, and that was only amplified by the drama that began in the second set involving Nadal’s injury.
The Calendar Slam obituaries were being written as the Spaniard could be seen feeling his stomach, deep in conversation with the trainer, and even taking his headband off.
But whether it was the painkillers or something else, the 36-year-old – despite his serve speed being right down – somehow mounted a recovery to get himself level on the scoreboard as he broke right at the death before the tie-break, taking it 7-5.
Where would it go from here?
The answer was towards Fritz, with the American breaking in game three and consolidating his advantage thereafter to take the third 6-3. It was due reward for a set in which Fritz played superbly well, especially given he was dealing with an injured opponent – never easy – and the pressure of a possible first Grand Slam semi-final.
Perhaps fitting of what was on the line – either a Fritz win or a deciding fifth set – the fourth set swung one way then the next throughout.
First, Nadal – moving increasingly freely and with fewer agitated looks towards his box – broke to take the early lead. But two more breaks followed as Fritz fought back, before ceding what he had gained straightaway.
The American did manage to level it up at 4-4, but he once again couldn’t hold onto his own serve and let Nadal in at the death once again, the Spaniard holding his own delivery to take the set 7-5.
The fifth promised much, and it delivered.
Every point was met with a noisy reaction as the Centre Court crowd were swept up in the emotion of one of the matches of the tournament so far.
It was blow-for-blow until game seven, when Nadal looked to have landed a match-winning break.
But Fritz – as he had done throughout the tie – kept rebounding, and remarkably he broke straight back to keep his hopes alive.
And so it was to be a ten-point ‘match’ tie-break to decide it.
Nadal came steaming out of the blocks to take a 5-0 lead, but once again Fritz recovered to 6-3. However Nadal’s forehand down-the-line was proving the pivotal shot, with a number of rallies ending in the Majorcan firing a winner in that direction.
And in the end Nadal sealed it on his first match point, firing a forehand cross court which Fritz, finally, couldn’t respond to.
Nadal was reminded afterwards that it is 14 years ago to the day that he beat Roger Federer in the 2008 Wimbledon final, considered one of the sport’s finest matches.
Nadal said: “It was a long time ago but it is impossible not to remember that final with Roger, all the special moments we shared around the world and on this court we played a couple of the most important matches of our career.
“Going back to 2008 it would have been difficult to imagine in 2022 I would still be here at Wimbledon playing, but here I am and I am happy for that.”