Ailing Nadal finds mental steel to edge ahead of Fritz in Wimbledon epic

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LONDON, July 6 (Reuters) – An injured Rafa Nadal showed heroic mental toughness to edge past America’s 11th seed Taylor Fritz in a deciding last set in a thrilling quarter-final match at Wimbledon on Wednesday to keep alive his quest for a calendar year Grand Slam.

Struggling with an abdominal injury, Nadal looked set to retire mid-game but found the will to beat Fritz 3-6 7-5 3-6 7-5 7-6 (10-4 ) in four hours and 20 minutes to prepare. a semi-final showdown against Australian maverick Nick Kyrgios.

“The body is generally fine. Of course, something is not right in the abdominal area,” Nadal said on center court.

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“I had to find a way to serve a bit differently. For many moments I thought maybe I couldn’t finish the game. But I don’t know, the pitch, the energy is something else , so thank you for that.”

The All England Club, where the Spaniard has won two of his 22 majors, has been the least rewarding place for Nadal, but he arrived this year after winning the Australian and French Open titles for the first time in his career.

A third Wimbledon title and first since 2010 on manicured lawns and a US Open triumph at Flushing Meadows would see the Mallorcan claim the calendar slam – a feat last achieved in 1969 by Australian great Rod Laver .

Fritz, 12 years younger than 36-year-old Nadal, delivered a blow to the Spaniard earlier this year at the ATP 1000 Finals in Indian Wells, ending his 20-game winning streak this season.

But Nadal went into that match with a stress fracture in his rib, which subsequently ruled him out of the competition for a month.

GOOD START

Nadal arrived for the contest having won all seven quarter-finals he played at Wimbledon and came out on top against Fritz early on, wielding his forehand like a sword to break serve in the opener.

Fritz appeared a bit listless against groundstrokes from the southpaw, but grew into the game over time and he converted his fourth breakpoint chance in game six to recover the set on serve.

A few costly errors from Nadal gave Fritz another break and the American cruised through the first set, winning five straight games from 1-3, 0-30 down.

Nadal again took the lead in the second set, breaking Fritz’s serve when the American slipped and made two forehand errors.

But the Spaniard began to struggle physically – with his head down on the pitch and his hands on his knees – and he gave up the advantage with two double faults in game five.

Nadal was soon taken off the pitch for medical time off for an abdominal problem with his father urging him fervently from the player’s box to end his misery.

But the former two-time Wimbledon champion ignored the demands and returned to the packed showcourt amid loud applause, then beat Fritz in the 12th game to level the match at one set apiece.

Thoughtful during the substitutions and still struggling on the court while serving, Nadal was broken twice as the American comfortably won the third set.

But he wasn’t ready to throw in the towel just yet. Nadal traded two breaks before claiming the American’s serve a third time to force a decisive fifth set.

With the crowd firmly behind him, Nadal earned the break in game seven, staring hard at his player’s box, but Fritz immediately pulled back to force a decisive 10-point tiebreaker.

The Spaniard took a 5-0 lead in the tiebreaker, then won a 25-shot rally amid raucous applause and converted his second match point with a searing forehand for a memorable victory.

“Honestly, I really like playing these kind of matches in front of all of you,” Nadal said while addressing the crowd.

“It was a difficult afternoon against a great player. From my personal side it was not an easy match at all. So I am very happy to be in this semi-final.”

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Reporting by Sudipto Ganguly; edited by Toby Davis and Christian Radnedge

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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