Crying with stomach pains, unable to practice his usual relentless tennis style, Rafael Nadal worried he might have to stop playing in the Wimbledon quarter-finals against Taylor Fritz.
In the Center Court stands, Nadal’s father waved his arms and motioned for the 22-time Grand Slam champion to stop. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the child did not listen. Nadal stayed there, tweaking his serve move and his strategy — and figured out a way to win.
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While much of the crowd roared and stood after Nadal’s best shots, he twice cleared the one-set deficit against 11th-seeded Fritz and came out 3-6, 7-5, 3-6, 7- 5, 7-6 (10 -4) victory to reach his eighth semi-final at the All England Club.
“A lot of moments,” Nadal said, “I thought, ‘Maybe I won’t be able to finish the game.'”
He reached his 38th major semifinal of his career by denying what would have been a first outing for Fritz, a 24-year-old American who defeated Nadal in the final in Indian Wells, California, in March. That ended a 20-game winning streak for Nadal, who suffered a painful rib injury that day.
This time, the problem was a muscle in his stomach area, which had some athletic tape on it, as was the case at Nadal’s fourth-round match Monday, when he refused to talk about it.
Kyrgios through to Wimbledon semi-finals
Nadal left the field with a trainer for a medical time-out, while leading 4-3 in the second set; Fritz paced around the baseline, waiting for the action to resume.
When that happened, Nadal was clearly compromised. It was hard not to think: would he give up? Nadal acknowledged that that was going through his mind. Perhaps that was also the case with Fritz, because his playing level dropped quickly for pieces.
He pretty much handed over the second set of what was to be a 4 hours 21 minutes match under a sky of slate clouds. After Fritz took the third set, his big serve was broken three times in the next set.
Insane winner breaks Kyrgios
Nadal occasionally saw a ball of Fritz’s orange racket fly past. Nadal couldn’t move as he usually does. His signature grunts of “Uhhhh!” were rare.
He didn’t generate the usual zip on his serve, which dropped from a maximum of 120 mph to barely more than 100 mph. He tried to end exchanges with a quick forehand or a drop shot – sometimes successfully, often not.
“A tough afternoon. Not an easy game,” said Nadal. “Something is not right in the stomach.”
Still, he called out his best for the last, taking a 5-0 lead in the final tiebreak – the first-to-10, win-by-two format from 6-all in a fifth set is new for Wimbledon this year – and then five of the last six points. By doing so, Nadal expanded his undefeated position in Grand Slam matches to 19-0 in 2022, while looking to add a trophy at Wimbledon to his victories at the Australian Open in January and the French Open in June. Despite all he has achieved, the 36-year-old Spaniard has never won the first three Slam titles of a season.
On Friday, Nadal will meet Nick Kyrgios, the 27-year-old Australian who will make his Grand Slam debut in the semi-finals after a 6-4, 6-3, 7-6 (5) win over Chile’s Cristian Garin.
Asked to look ahead to Kyrgios, Nadal began with this ominous statement: “I hope to be ready to play.”
The Spaniard admitted it is unknown if he will be fit enough to play after going through the “worst” day with his new abdominal injury.
He continued: “I have to be 100 percent to keep chances and that’s what I’m going to try to do.”
The other men’s semifinal is No. 1 Novak Djokovic vs. No. 9 Cam Norrie.
The women’s semifinals will be 2019 champion Simona Halep against No.17 Elena Rybakina, and No.3 Ons Jabeur against unseeded Tatjana Maria.
Halep advanced by knocking out number 20 Amanda Anisimova of the United States 6-2, 6-4, and Rybakina came back and defeated Ajla Tomljanovic 4-6, 6-2, 6-3.
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