Rafael Nadal’s progress to the Wimbledon quarter-finals has been the polar opposite of a potential semi-final opponent Nick Kyrgios, serene and unruffled compared to the fireworks and controversial circus surrounding the world No40 – and silently many are praying that one of the biggest of the Australian’s many grudge clashes materialises as a semi-final on Centre Court on Friday.
Spanish sporting talisman Nadal arrived at Wimbledon not only as the greatest player in history in terms of grand slam singles titles won with 22 to his name – but with concerns yet again over the state of his left foot. The pain from a condition Mueller-Weiss syndrome requires careful management, though he overcame that to win an incredible 14th French Open title.
But having dropped sets in his first two rounds at SW19 the 36-year-old Nadal has kept his last two opponents off the set board, powering into the last eight with a 6-4, 6-2, 7-6 victory over Botic van der Zandschulp of the Netherlands, setting up a potentially far trickier clash with the big-serving Californian Taylor Fritz – into a first slam quarter-final, and whose first delivery can reach 149mph.
Neither Nadal or Kyrgios is guaranteed to get through by any means, but their history means that such a possibility is the talk of the grounds. In 2019 Kyrgios complained in Mexico to the umpire about the time taken between points, an accusation often levelled at the Spaniard. After losing, Nadal blasted the Aussie saying he “lacked respect” And even his dad weighed in claiming Kyrgios “lacked education and smartness”. Kyrgios put it down to “super saltiness” after losing.
And then later that year at Wimbledon Kyrgios admitted to deliberately smacking the ball at Nadal’s chest, and has since mimicked the Mallorca-born player’s many idiosyncratic routines before serving and elsewhere. This also did not go down well.
All that though is very much on hold and in the ‘maybe’ box with both facing tough quarter-final matches on Wednesday – though Kyrgios will also be a warm favourite to beat Chile’s unseeded Cristian Garin.
For now, Nadal is happy that his form is improving as the tournament progresses – what any top player is looking for. He said: “The positive thing is the first two matches weren’t good. Then in the next one I played I think at high level for the first time. And then in this last one I played most of the match, again, at a very positive level – so I am happy for that.
“That give me the chance to have one more day on Tuesday on the court practicing and adjusting things that I need to keep doing. The improvement during the tournament is there and of course I’m happy to be back in the quarter-finals after three years without playing here. It’s a positive result for me.
“I made a big effort to be here, it takes a lot of mental and physical effort to try to play this tournament after the things that I went through the last couple of months. But as everybody knows, Wimbledon is a tournament that I like so much. It has been three years without me playing here. I really wanted to be back, that’s what I am doing. So that’s why it means a lot for me to be in the quarter-finals.
“I started to feel that my ball is damaging more than the beginning of the tournament, and now is the moment to keep doing the steps forward if I want to keep having chances.”
Fritz, 24, had the perfect preparation for Wimbledon by winning in Eastbourne on the grass, and has carried that form into the grand slam.
And Nadal said: “What I learned the last time I played Taylor was zero because I had a stress fracture on my rib, and that was difficult to learn many things because, honestly, the pain was terrible playing that match. But it’s obvious he’s playing at a very, very high level, having a great season, winning matches everywhere.
“The week before Wimbledon he won the tournament. Now in the quarter-finals, and winning already in a Masters 1000 title. So it is going to be a tough quarter-final against a great player. But you can’t expect an easy opponent out there now.” (thesportsman.com)