Rafael Nadal admits he is “worried” about his fitness to play Nick Kyrgios in Friday’s Wimbledon semi-final after an abdominal injury left him in such agony that he was forced to alter his service action.
Despite completing a staggering five-set comeback win over Taylor Fritz, the world No14, in a match so painful and gruelling that even his father, Sebastian, urged him to quit, the Spaniard was downbeat on his chances of backing up such a performance against Kyrgios.
“I’m worried now, honestly,” Nadal said. “I’m going to have some more tests. In my tennis career, I’m used to having things, to holding pain and to playing with problems. Knowing that, when I feel something like I felt here, it is because something is not going the proper way in the abdominal area. Without a doubt, this was the worst day. There has been an important increase of pain and limitation.”
The distress was so acute in the second set that Nadal’s father, Sebastian, implored him from the stands to abandon this quarter-final for his own benefit, making a “leave” gesture with his hand. “They told me I needed to retire from the match, yeah,” he said. “But for me, it was tough to retire in the middle of the match. It wasn’t easy, even if I had that idea for such a long time. I did it a couple of times in my career, and it’s something that I hate to do. So I just keep trying, and that’s it.”
The excruciating toll of this 3-6, 7-5, 3-6, 7-5, 7-6 (10-4) victory, which took 4hrs 20mins, was etched all over his face. On serve, he was struggling so visibly that his maximum speed was 25mph below that of Fritz, forcing him to adjust his motion. By the end, exhorted by an ecstatic Centre Court crowd, he was playing on pure adrenalin, having refused his trainer’s attempts to intervene.
“They can’t do much, honestly,” he said. “The doctor came and gave me some anti-inflammatories and analgesics. The physio just tried to relax the muscle a little. But it’s difficult – nothing can be fixed when you have something like this. It’s not easy to leave the tournament. It’s not easy to leave Wimbledon, even if the pain is hard. I wanted to finish. Well, I prefer to win. I fought. I’m proud about the fighting spirit, and the way I managed to be competitive under those conditions.”
Nadal is targeting both his third major title in succession and a record-extending 23rd overall. There is also the powerful motivation of trying to become only the second man, after Rod Laver – who was here on Centre Court to salute this stirring triumph – to achieve the calendar grand slam. “Fortunately, I was able to adapt to the circumstances, to keep being competitive. That’s something that I am happy with.”
The nagging doubt is whether he will be in any condition to face Kyrgios, the mercurial and controversial Australian who reached his first Wimbledon semi-final by beating Chile’s Cristian Garin in straight sets. The pair have a fraught history at the All England Club: Kyrgios, having beaten him here as a 19-year-old eight years ago, enraged him in 2019 by serving underarm and peppering him with shots to the body.
“I don’t know,” Nadal said, with a rueful smile, when asked if he would be appearing for the semi-final. “I can’t give you a clear answer because if I do and then another thing happens, I will be a liar.”
Fritz, knowing that Nadal was physically diminished here, was devastated by the defeat but still found it within him to applaud his conqueror’s resilience. “It probably hurts more than any loss I've ever had,” the Californian said. "I feel confident saying this is No 1 because literally after the match was over, I was sitting there and I felt like I wanted to cry. I've never felt like that, ever, after a loss.
"His movement, for a couple of games, wasn’t as explosive. Once he had a feel for the injury, he knew it was only really going to affect him on the serve and he could play through from the back. His serve dropped 10, 15 mph. From the ground, I thought that in the third, fourth and fifth sets, he was money. He was moving really well. I was absolutely ripping the ball into the corners and he was running and ripping them straight back past me for winners. He was amazing.”