LONDON – Rafael Nadal, wincing with a stomach ache and unable to practice his usual relentless tennis style, worried he might have to stop playing Taylor Fritz in the Wimbledon quarterfinals.
Up in the Center Court stands, Nadal’s father waved his arms and motioned for the 22-time Grand Slam champion to stop. Perhaps not surprisingly, the boy wasn’t listening. Nadal stayed out there, adjusted his serve and strategy – and found a way to win.
While much of the crowd roared and stood after Nadal’s best shots, he twice erased one-set deficits against 11th-seeded Fritz, going 3-6 7-5 3-6 7-5 7- 6 (10 -4) win on Wednesday to advance to his eighth semi-final at the All England Club.
“For many moments,” Nadal said, “I thought, ‘Maybe I won’t be able to finish the match.”’
On Friday, Nadal meets Nick Kyrgios, a 27-year-old Australian who will make his Grand Slam semifinal debut after a 6-4, 6-3, 7-6 (5) win over Cristian Garin of Chile.
“Obviously, we know, two completely different personalities,” Kyrgios said of Nadal. “However, I feel like we respect each other. I think that would be a delicious encounter for everyone around the world. That would probably be the most watched game of all time. I would argue that.”
The other men’s semifinals will be No. 1 Novak Djokovic vs. No. 9 Cam Norrie.
Nadal reached his 38th Major semifinal of his career by making the first such appearance 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 was plagued by a painful rib injury that day.
This time the problem was a muscle in his abdominal area that had some athletic tape on it, as was the case with Nadal’s fourth-round match on Monday when he refused to talk about it. On Wednesday, Nadal left the court with a coach on a medical time-out while leading 4-3 in the second set. Fritz walked around the baseline and waited for the action to resume.
Nadal admitted retiring was going through his mind. Maybe that was also Fritz’s fault, because his level of play slipped steeply in places.
He pretty much surrendered the second set of a 4 hour 21 minute contest under a sky of slate clouds. After Fritz won the third set, his big serve was broken three times in the next.
Nadal occasionally watched as a ball flew by from Fritz’s orange racquet. Nadal couldn’t move like he usually does. His signature grunt of “Uhhhh!” was rare. He didn’t generate the usual momentum on his serves, which dropped from a top speed of 120mph to just over 100mph. He tried to end the exchange with a quick forehand or a drop shot – sometimes with success, often not.
“A tough afternoon. Not an easy match at all,” said Nadal. “Something’s not going well in the stomach area.”
Still, he got his best late and took a 5-0 lead in the final tie-break – the first-to-10, wins-to-two format starting at 6-all in a fifth set is new at Wimbledon this year – – and then five of the last six points. In doing so, Nadal extended his unbeaten record in Grand Slam matches to 19-0 in 2022 while looking to add a trophy at Wimbledon to his triumphs at the Australian Open in January and the French Open in June. For all he has achieved, the 36-year-old Spaniard has never won his first three Slam titles in a season.
Nadal leads Kyrgios 6-3 in their head-to-head series, but they’re even 1-1 at Wimbledon: Kyrgios, just 19 and ranked 144th, announced himself to the world by overwhelming Nadal in 2014; Nadal won the rematch in 2019 after Kyrgios spent the night before at a local pub until the early hours.
“I hope I’m ready to play,” Nadal said of Friday’s game. “I have to be at 100% to keep having chances and I’ll try to do that.”
Even Kyrgios didn’t think that day would ever come. He became the first unseeded and lowest-ranked man to make the last four at the All England Club since 2008, playing Garin in what he regards as a low-key and efficient brand of tennis.
“I thought my ship had sailed,” said Kyrgios. “Obviously I wasn’t tackling great things early in my career and maybe wasted that little window. But I’m just really proud of how I just got back out of here.”
Kyrgios, ranked 40th, has attracted more attention for his behavior on and off the pitch than for his racquet-in-hand skills. His match against unseeded Garin, a 26-year-old from Chile, came a day after police in Canberra, Australia, said Kyrgios is due to appear in court next month to face an allegation of joint assault that due to something that happened in December.
“I have a lot of thoughts, a lot of things I want to say, kind of my side of it,” Kyrgios said at his post-match press conference on Wednesday. “Obviously, I’ve been advised by my attorneys that I’m ‘I can’t say anything at the moment.'”
After his first-round win at Wimbledon last week, Kyrgios was fined $10,000 for spitting at a heckling spectator. His third round win over 4th seed Stefanos Tsitsipas was as controversial as could be and Kyrgios was fined another $4,000 for an audible profanity; after that, Tsitsipas called him a “bully” and “evil”.
Also noteworthy is how well Kyrgios played. His serve in particular is among the best in the game, regularly exceeding 130mph, and he hit 17 aces against Garin while only getting broken once – in the very first game, on serve.
His big forehands are also great, but otherwise little about Kyrgios is conventional, judging by his on-court post-match comments.
“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.