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Rafael Nadal Survives Challenge from Taylor Fritz in Five-Set Comeback

Rafael Nadal stretch volley Wimbledon

Rafael Nadal’s continued his Wimbledon run with a comeback victory over Taylor Fritz in the quarterfinals on Wednesday, winning 36 75 36 75 76.

For the first time in his career, Nadal had won the first two Slams of the season. He took the Australian Open in January, coming back from two sets down in the final. The Spaniard then captured an astonishing 14th French Open title a month ago.

Still, few expected a Calendar Grand Slam to be fully on the table. The Spaniard hasn’t won Wimbledon since 2010, and grass has been the surface where he’s most susceptible to upsets. Additionally, given Nadal’s complaints about his foot before, during, and after the French Open, it was hard to know where his fitness was to complete the tournament. The Spaniard looked physically okay through four rounds, though his comments after his fourth-round win led to some speculation, as Nadal said, “I’m tired of talking about my body.”

Those comments proved telling for his next match. And what a match it was.

Rafael Nadal vs Taylor Fritz

If there were any physical limitations to Nadal’s game, they were not apparent to start the match. In fact, the Spaniard started the match on absolute fire, going directly at Fritz’s game. He broke the Fritz serve to open the match and looked very confident in doing so. Fritz, though, in the best season of his career, fought back, breaking Nadal with an impressive return game to get back to 3-3. In Nadal’s next service game, the American clearly troubled the Spaniard, who gave away the break with a double fault. Four strong serves later, and Fritz had taken the first set.

Nadal once again came out strong in the second set, earning an early break. The Spaniard didn’t quite look his best, though, and after Fritz held for 1-3, things began to unravel. The serve dipped, and the 22-time Major champion looked to seriously trouble out there. He had his stomach taped and something was clearly physically bothering him. After a tough hold to stay on serve at 4-3, Nadal left the court to visit with the trainer.

Clearly physically hampered, Nadal still managed to back up his serve with impressive groundstrokes. The serve was pretty weak, but the overall game let Nadal hold twice. Those same groundstrokes and strong returns earned a decisive break, and the movement seemed to be improving as whatever treatment or painkillers he received kicked in. The serve would obviously be a problem, but Nadal evened up the match by taking the second set 75.

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Third and Fourth Sets

The third set continued the way the second set ended. Nadal still seemed Nadal-like from the ground, but there was just no power on the serve. This led to an early break of serve for Fritz, again on a Nadal double fault. Rallies were solid, and Nadal was competitive, but Fritz was stronger, and the serve made a big difference. Fritz had one, and Nadal didn’t. Fritz got a late break to close the set 63, and was one set away from victory.

For the third time in the match, Nadal got a break on his first opportunity in a set. He looked good from the ground and getting better, but the serve still had no real power. So Fritz broke back, but strong returns netted Nadal another immediate break. Like in the first two sets, Nadal couldn’t serve out that early break. Fritz broke for 4-4, then fought off two break points with some impressive tennis to hold for 5-4. He couldn’t do the same in the next service game, and Nadal broke with a chance to serve for the set. Once again, the Nadal serve had no raw power, but he did enough to back it up and held for 75 once again. We were going five.

Fifth Set

The deciding set began in relatively tame fashion, with both men consistently holding serve and neither seeming overly drained or nervous. The drama began in the set’s seventh game, when the Fritz serve didn’t seem as precise as overall in the match, and Nadal came out attacking. What proceeded was a marathon game full of twists, turns, and incredible shots. Eventually, too many Fritz errors after deep Nadal groundstrokes made the difference, and the 22-time Major champion earned a potentially deciding break after four deuces.

Earning that break seemed to take a tiny bit out of Nadal, though. The serve was getting slightly bigger–though still nowhere close to normal–but Fritz got return after return in play. Two good shots by Fritz and two poor Nadal shots later, and we were back on serve. Nadal once again got into the Fritz service game, but the American pulled out some impressive shots and big serves to hold, and force Nadal to serve to stay in the match. Nadal held serve without trouble, but so did Fritz, so we were back to the same position. A hold to love later, and we were headed to a tiebreak to ten points to decide it.

The tiebreak did not start off well for Fritz, including some very rough errors at the net. Nadal raced out to a 5-0 lead, but Fritz did get one minibreak back to cut it to 5-3. The American couldn’t find his top game in the tiebreak, though, while Nadal seemed to be improving, and the Spaniard held six match points with a 9-3 lead at the changeover. The 22-time Major champion only needed two, taking the tiebreak 10-4 and advancing to the semifinals.

What’s Next?

Rafael Nadal will now face Nick Kyrgios in the semifinal on Friday. Kyrgios defeated Chilean Cristian Garin in straight sets in his quarterfinal. What Nadal has left in the tank–and what his physical condition and serve will be like–is anyone’s guess. We should have long ago learned to never count Nadal out. Kyrgios did beat Nadal in the fourth round of Wimbledon in 2014. Can he repeat that? Will Nadal find yet another bit of magic to keep the Calendar Slam dream alive? We can’t wait to find out.

Main Photo from Getty.


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