WIMBLEDON, ENGLAND (AP) – Wincing from abdominal pain, unable to ply his customary relentless style of tennis, Rafael Nadal thought he might need to stop playing in the Wimbledon quarterfinals against Taylor Fritz.
Up in the Centre Court stands, Nadal’s father was waving his arms, motioning to the 22-time Grand Slam champion to quit. Not surprisingly, perhaps, he didn’t listen.
Nadal stayed out there and figured out a way to win.
With much of the crowd roaring and standing after Nadal’s best strokes, he twice erased one-set deficits against the 11th-seeded Fritz and emerged with 3-6, 7-5, 3-6, 7-5, 7-6 (10-4) victory on Wednesday to reach his eighth semifinal at the All England Club.
“For a lot of moments,” Nadal said, “I was thinking, ‘Maybe I will not be able to finish the match.'”
He did complete it, but said he couldn’t be sure whether he will be able to play the next round against Nick Kyrgios, a 27-year-old Australian who earned his Grand Slam semifinal debut with a 6-4, 6-3, 7-6 (5) victory over Cristian Garin of Chile.
“I don’t know exactly what I have. It’s clear something’s not right,” said Nadal, who will get tests for an issue that first cropped up a week ago but got much worse at 3-1 in the first set against Fritz. “I’m obviously worried.”
The other men’s semifinal is Novak Djokovic against Cam Norrie.
Nadal got to his 38th career major semifinal by denying what would have been a first such appearance for Fritz, who beat Nadal in the hard-court final at Indian Wells, California, in March.
That ended a 20-match winning streak for Nadal, who was bothered that day by a painful rib injury.
This time, the problem was a muscle in his stomach area, which had some athletic tape.
Nadal left the court with a trainer for a medical timeout while up 4-3 in the second set; Fritz paced around the baseline, waiting.
A doctor gave Nadal some pills; the trainer tried to relax the muscle.
When action resumed, Nadal clearly was compromised. It was hard not to think: Might he give up?
Nadal acknowledged that went through his mind. Fritz did, too.
“It definitely made me kind of think. I kind of stopped being as aggressive,” the 24-year-old American said. “I feel like I let it kind of get to me a little bit.”
He pretty much handed over the second set of what would become a four-hour, 21-minute contest under a sky of slate clouds. After Fritz took the third set, his big serve got broken three times in the next.
Nadal occasionally would watch a ball off Fritz’s orange racket fly by. Nadal couldn’t move the way he usually does. But Nadal is not one who concedes easily.
He summoned his best for last, grabbing a 5-0 lead in the closing tiebreaker – the first-to-10, win-by-two format starting at six-all in a fifth set is new to Wimbledon this year – and then five of the last six points.
Fritz’s take on the tiebreaker? “Got destroyed,” he said.
“Probably hurts more than any loss I’ve ever had,” Fritz said. “After the match was over, I was sitting there and I felt like crying.”