Rafael Nadal beats Taylor Fritz in Wimbledon quarterfinals

WIMBLEDON, England — One stadium had tranquility, the other a brouhaha. One had peace involving — good grief — Nick Kyrgios, the other that bedlam familiar around the planet in which gentle soul Rafael Nadal tries to clamber out from nine-tenths into the crypt.

Court No. 1 had the wildly talented but wildly wild Kyrgios reaching his first Grand Slam semifinal on his 30th try, then tumbling to his back on the grass, then sitting in his chair in reflection. Center Court had Nadal looking infirm enough that he might retire from the match and Californian Taylor Fritz trying all the complicated parsing therein — all while the crowd showed the weird knack of tennis crowds everywhere circa 2022, seeing a 22-time major winner such as Nadal , the world’s utmost fighter, and reckoning he needs further, boomier encouragement.

As two tennis stadiums that sit almost shoulder to shoulder at the All England Club lived their latest memorable Wednesday, Kyrgios of Australia got done in a reasonable 2 hours 13 minutes in besting impressive Chilean Cristian Garin, 6-4, 6-3, 7- 6 (7-5), in an unexpected matchup of unseeded contestants. Nadal of Spain — but really more so of Earth by now — withstood a meandering slog of 4:21 with the still-rising Fritz by dominating that newfangled super tiebreaker they use around here to decide fifth sets. He won, 3-6, 7-5, 3-6, 7-5, 7-6 (10-4).

“I never thought I would be here,” said Kyrgios, 27. “The ship, I thought, was gone.”

“They told me I need to retire the match, yeah,” Nadal, 36, said of the gestures of his father and sister — and of his abdominal pain.

Now they steer toward one loud semifinal coming Friday — “A mouthwatering kind of encounter for everyone around the world,” Kyrgios called it — provided No. 2 seed Nadal and his protesting abdomen make it there. “Worried now honestly, no?” he said. “That’s part of the business too, no?”

In the noiseless part of the afternoon, Kyrgios told of sitting at his chair and thinking of “how things can change” and “a point where I was almost done with the sport” and the bygone “self-harm and suicidal thoughts and stuff. ” He said his lawyers advised him not to comment on the news at hand — a court appearance next month in Canberra on assault charges from an ex-girlfriend.

“ ‘No, he doesn’t have the mental capacity,’ ” he quoted the many as saying through the years. “ ‘He doesn’t have the fitness capacity; he doesn’t have the discipline’ — all that. I almost started doubting myself with all that traffic coming in and out of my mind. I just sat there today and soaked it all in. There’s just so many people I want to thank.”

In the clamorous part of the afternoon and early evening, Nadal traipsed to the edge of doom again as he had in an Australian Open final in which he trailed Daniil Medvedev by two sets and looked decrepit and as he had in a French Open in which he Played on a foot he couldn’t be sure would function. An abdominal muscle did the threatening this time, and by the second set it clearly sapped some caliber from his backhand and his serve, the latter often laced with uncharacteristic meekness.

As Nadal ventured indoors for anti-inflammatories at one point, the lot of it did confuse the still-rising Fritz, 24 and seeded 11th, as such a thing has many a player through time.

“It definitely made me kind of think,” said the big server, whose heady year includes a win over Nadal at the Indian Wells final in March. “I kind of stopped being as aggressive. I feel like I let it kind of get to me a little bit. It looked for a bit like he wasn’t moving so well for some shots, and then obviously the serve lost some speed. But I feel like toward the end of the second, we played some really long rallies where I was running him side to side and he was making some gets that I don’t think a lot of normal players would be getting to.”

At that point, he said, “I was like, ‘All right … I can’t treat it like he’s injured.’ ”

Right around that time, Kyrgios spoke without fanfare, nothing like the mid-match and post-match circus of his third-round win over Stefanos Tsitsipas. This player ranked 40th but No. 1 as an epicenter of commotion, said he had been looking at his phone less and staying at his house more, which has “not always been the easiest thing for me over my career.” He hadn’t even tried any trick shots against Garin, and he raved about Garin’s forehand return. Garin, ranked 43rd, said: “Today he played very solid all the match. I didn’t see anything weird. Yeah, he deserved to win today because he’s also a great, great player.”

Kyrgios: “I obviously had thoughts the last year, year and a half, whether I wanted to play anymore. Lost the love, lost the fire, lost the spark.”

Nadal never had such thoughts, of course, so he began to feel the adrenaline or the anti-inflammatories or the esteemed court and the rowdy crowd. “I won because I played very good from the baseline,” he said with his Grand Slam record at 19-0 this year. “Of course, I didn’t win because of the serve. It’s obvious.”

He kept thinking he might retire from the match, but then: “I did it a couple of times in my tennis career. Is something that I hate to do it. So I just keep trying, and that’s it.”

By the closing strains of the fifth set, as Nadal broke Fritz for a 4-3 edge but Fritz broke Nadal for 4-4, Nadal’s ground game had become downright impenetrable. Injury had gone somewhere else. Fritz felt more flummoxed by Nadal’s softer serves because he couldn’t use the pace. Fritz’s unforced errors had gone from two in the first set and three in the third to 11 in the fourth and 10 in the fifth.

“I was absolutely ripping the ball in corners,” Fritz said, “and he was running and ripping them back for winners, so . . ”

Yet Fritz saw no gamesmanship. He figured Nadal felt the abdomen creak and probably worried about the severity of a possible tear. “Maybe that explains how the movement for a couple of games was not as, maybe, explosive,” Fritz said.

By the time they made it to the tiebreaker after 7 pm under the light blue sky, Nadal became the player who had experienced 33 previous Grand Slam five-setters. He ripped a backhand pass for 1-0. He went error-free all the way to 5-0. Fritz got within 5-3, but Nadal roared from there and finished on his serve with a groundstroke cross-court for a clean winner and further bedlam.

“I mean, it’s Nadal,” Fritz said, smiling at his fate of an underdog unsupported. “How can you question anybody wanting to cheer for him?” Still: “I really, really wanted this match.” And: “I’ve never felt like I could cry after a loss,” but Wednesday he came close. And: “Honestly, probably hurts more than any loss I’ve ever had.”

He had lost to Nadal’s Lazarus role as others had before him, so on went Nadal, even as he called Wednesday “the worst day” with “an important increase of pain and limitation,” and even as he wondered about Friday and said, “ There is even something more important than win Wimbledon — that is the health,” and even as most who have witnessed his towering perseverance probably didn’t believe him all that much.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.