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"I wanted to finish": Rafael Nadal's familiar mind-over-matter spirit pulled him through against Taylor Fritz
After defying his family's wishes to stop, the reigning Australian Open and Roland Garros champion escaped in sudden death on Centre Court Wednesday to line up a Wimbledon semifinal clash with Nick Kyrgios.
Published Jul 06, 2022
WATCH: Nadal's quarterfinal press conference
So far, Rafael Nadal’s quest for the Grand Slam in 2022 has been a 19-match triumph of mind over matter.
He came to the Australian Open after spending six months on the sidelines with chronic foot pain and recovering from a case of Covid. He won the tournament anyway.
He came to the French Open after limping out of Rome with that same pain in his foot. Two weeks of numbing injections later, he walked out of Paris a winner.
He came to Wimbledon after having an experimental treatment on his foot. But just when he seemed to have one problem solved, another cropped up. During his quarterfinal against Taylor Fritz, he struggled with an abdominal injury. Nadal’s service speed dropped, he double faulted seven times, he pulled up short on balls he would normally get. It appeared for much of the second and third sets that he would have to pull the plug and retire. Nadal’s family begged him to do just that.
“They told me I need to retire the match,” Nadal said of his father and sister. “For me was tough to retire in the middle of the match…Is something that I hate to do it. So I just keep trying, and that’s it.”
But again, Nadal walked away a winner, 3-6, 7-5, 3-6, 7-5, 7-6 (10-4).
Along the way, Rafa showed us that there is one upside to being injured: You swing a little more freely and aggressively, knowing you have less to lose, and that you need to end points quickly.
That’s how Nadal worked his way into, and eventually won, this one. He put his serve into the court, without worrying about the pace, and made up for it by teeing off on the first forehand or backhand that came back. Instead of softening Fritz up with crosscourt forehands and then pulling the trigger, the way he normally would, he just pulled the trigger.
Nadal matched the bigger-hitting American’s winner total with 56, and won 26 of 36 points at net. He saved one service game with three forehand drop-shot winners. He ran down every Fritz missile he could, and used his backhand slice to force the tall American to bend and dig. In each of the final two sets, he served to stay in the match at 4-5. Nadal and Fritz finished with 168 points each, but once the score reached 5-5, Nadal won six games and Fritz just one. In the final-set tiebreaker, Rafa found just the right balance of aggression and margin; up 6-3 in that breaker, he hit four winners in the final five points.
“I won because I play very good from the baseline,” Rafa said. “Of course I didn’t win because of the serve. It’s obvious.”
“I think, unfortunately, or fortunately, I was able to manage, to improve, and to adapt to the circumstances that my body presents to me to keep being competitive under any circumstances, no?” Nadal said. “I was able to improve my tennis depending on the needs. Something that I am happy with.”
They told me I need to retire the match. —Nadal regarding what his family wanted him to do
Fritz said this “probably hurts more than any loss I’ve ever had.” He hit 19 aces and 56 winners, but he couldn’t find that extra something—a drop shot, a volley, a misdirection, a different way of finishing a rally—that he needed to throw Nadal off and get the ball past him. Fritz kept hitting hard to the corners, but eventually that was too predictable against Rafa.
“Certain parts of the match I felt like maybe I kind of just needed to come up with more, do more,” Fritz said in an assessment that was commendable for its accuracy and honesty. “I left a lot kind of up to him, and he delivered.”
Nadal’s mind-over-matter tour continues for at least two more days. He says he’ll see how his ab muscle feels on Thursday and go from there. If his 2022 history is any guide, he’ll be on Centre Court, and he’ll be tough to beat.
“I just wanted to give myself a chance. Not easy to leave the tournament. Not easy to leave Wimbledon, even if the pain was hard,” Nadal said.
“I wanted to finish. Doesn’t matter. Well, I prefer to win, with victory or defeat. That's what I did. Proud about the fighting spirit and the way that I managed to be competitive under that conditions.”