August 12, 2022

LONDON — Trembling with abdominal pain, unable to practice his usual relentless style of tennis, Rafael Nadal feared he would have to quit playing in the Wimbledon quarter-finals against Taylor Fritz.

In the stands of center court, Nadal’s father waved his arms, motioning the 22-time Grand Slam champion to resign. Unsurprisingly, perhaps, her child didn’t listen. Nadal stayed there, adjusted his serve motion and strategy – and found a way to win.

With much of the crowd roaring and standing after Nadal’s best shots, he twice erased one-set deficits against 11th-seeded Fritz and emerged with a 3-6, 7-5, 3 -6, 7-5, 7-6 (10 -4) victory on Wednesday to reach his eighth semi-final at the All England Club.

“For many moments,” Nadal said, “I thought, ‘Maybe I can’t finish the game. “”

On Friday, Nadal will meet Nick Kyrgios, a 27-year-old Australian who will make his Grand Slam semi-final debut after a 6-4, 6-3, 7-6(5) win over Chilean Cristian Garin.

“Obviously we know two completely different personalities,” Kyrgios said of Nadal. “I feel like we respect each other, though. I feel like it would be a mouth-watering encounter for everyone in the world. It would probably be the most-watched game ever. times. I would say this.”

The other men’s semi-final will pit No. 1 Novak Djokovic against No. 9 Cam Norrie.

Nadal reached his 38th career major semifinal by turning down what would have been a first such appearance for Fritz, a 24-year-old American who beat Nadal in the final in Indian Wells, Calif., in March. It ended a 20-game winning streak for Nadal, who was hampered that day by a painful rib injury.

This time the problem was a muscle in his stomach area, which had athletic tape on it, as was also the case in Nadal’s fourth-round game on Monday, when he refused to discuss it. On Wednesday, Nadal walked off the court with a coach for a medical timeout as he led 4-3 in the second set; Fritz paced the baseline waiting for the action to resume.

Nadal admitted quitting had crossed his mind. Perhaps that was also the case for Fritz, as his level of play slipped precipitously for periods.

He pretty much put off the second set of what would become a 4 hour, 21 minute contest under a sky of slate clouds. After Fritz took the third set, his big serve was broken three times in the next.

Nadal would sometimes watch a ball pass from Fritz’s orange racquet. Nadal couldn’t move like he usually does. His trademark growls of “Uhhhh!” were rare. He didn’t generate the usual zip on his serves, which went from a high of 120mph to barely above 100mph. He looked to end rallies with a quick forehand or drop shot – sometimes successfully, often not.

“A tough afternoon. It’s not an easy match at all,” Nadal said. “In the abs, something is wrong.”

Still, he summoned his best for last, taking a 5-0 lead in the final tiebreaker – the first-to-10, winning-by-two format starting at 6-all in a fifth set is new to Wimbledon this year – – then five of the last six points. In doing so, Nadal extended his unbeaten mark in Grand Slam matches in 2022 to 19-0 as he seeks to add a Wimbledon trophy to his triumphs at the Australian Open in January and then the Open. from France in June. Despite all he has achieved, the 36-year-old Spaniard has never won the first three Slam titles of a season.

Nadal leads Kyrgios 6-3 in their head-to-head series, but they’re even 1-all at Wimbledon: Kyrgios, just 19 and ranked 144th, announced himself to the world by stunning Nadal in 2014; Nadal won the rematch in 2019 after Kyrgios spent the previous night at a local pub until the early hours.

“I hope to be ready to play,” Nadal said of Friday’s game. “I have to be 100 per cent to keep getting chances and that’s what I’ll try to do.”

Even Kyrgios didn’t think this day would ever come. He became the first unranked and lowest-ranked man to advance to the All England Club’s last four since 2008 playing what for him equates to a restrained and efficient brand of tennis against Garin.

“I thought my ship had sailed,” Kyrgios said. “Obviously I didn’t do things very well at the start of my career and maybe I ruined that little window. But I’m really proud of how I’ve just come back here.”

Kyrgios, who is ranked 40th, has drawn more attention for his demeanor on and off the pitch than for his skills with a racquet in hand. His match against Garin, an unranked 26-year-old Chilean, came a day after police in Canberra, Australia said Kyrgios was due in court next month to face a common assault allegation. resulting from something that happened in December.

“I have a lot of thoughts, a lot of things I want to say, a bit on my side about it,” Kyrgios said in his post-match press conference on Wednesday. “Obviously I’ve been advised by my lawyers that I can’t say anything at this time.”

Following his first-round victory at Wimbledon last week, Kyrgios was fined $10,000 for spitting in the direction of a rowdy spectator. His third-round win over No. 4 seed Stefanos Tsitsipas was as controversial as it gets, and Kyrgios was fined an additional $4,000 for audible obscenity; afterwards, Tsitsipas called him a “bully” and a “bad guy”.

It’s also worth noting how well Kyrgios played. His serve, in particular, is among the best in the game, regularly topping 130mph, and he hammered 17 aces against Garin while only getting broken once – in the very first game, at love.

His big forehands are great too, but nothing else is conventional about Kyrgios, as noted in his on-court comments after the game.

“I don’t have a coach,” Kyrgios said with a smile. “I would never put that burden on anyone.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.