The world no.1 managed to defeat Juan Martin Del Potro in five sets, coming back from a 1-2 deficit. He will now face Novak Djokovic for a final berth.
Rafael Nadal finally made it to his first Wimbledon quarterfinal since 2011 (finished runner-up). The Spaniard won four straight-set matches prior to this fortnight (defeated Sela, Kukushkin, De Minaur and Vesely). The world no.1 finished his fourth-round match against Vesely on Monday and had the privilege of having a day off.
Meanwhile, Juan Martin Del Potro’s path to the quarterfinal was a bit rockier, he dispatched Peter Gojowczyk, Feliciano Lopez and Benoit Paire without conceding a single set, but his fourth-rounder against Gilles Simon was almost four and a half hours long and had to be finished on Tuesday. (Del Potro won 7-6, 7-6, 5-7, 7-6). Stamina – advantage Nadal.
Head-to-head between the two also favors Nadal, although the Argentinian managed to score five wins in their fifteen previous meetings (their most recent match was just over a month ago in French Open semifinals, the Spaniard won 6-4, 6-1, 6-2). Nadal won their two grass court encounters (Queen’s Club 2007 and Wimbledon 2011, lost a set in the latter of the two).
Del Potro was very topsy-turvy this entire tournament, playing an almost perfect game against Lopez (lost just 5 points on serve in 12 games, broke 5 times) to a just decent performance against Simon. However, it’s still Del Potro and if he’s healthy (which is unfortunately pretty rare for him) he’s always a great danger.
The level of play was excellent from the very beginning. Both played very aggressively behind their serves, scared of what their opponent would do when if they got the initiative. Down 3-4, Del Potro was the first one to drop that great level, double faulting to start the game and making two forehand unforced errors to hand Nadal the first break points of the match. His serve and his favorite shot came back to him at the most important moment, but at this point, it became clear that the Spaniard is the one who’s getting more of the return. Soon, Del Potro had to face another crucial moment, down 5-6 and 30-40. Nadal missed a second serve return on the first one but managed to take the set on his second occasion after a brilliant defensive point.
Luckily for the audience, Del Potro didn’t let the first set get in his head and came back to playing as equals with Nadal. Just as it seemed the Spaniard can do nothing wrong on his serve, he made four forehand errors (three unforced) to get broken at 4-4. He recovered wonderfully though and broke straight back. Two holds later, the set went to a tie-break. Del Potro’s level dropped but down 3-6, he produced two great points on serve. Nadal then double-faulted and lost a fourth set point at 6-7 when the Argentinian forced him to make an error. Del Potro managed to complete that ridiculous comeback forcing another backhand error off the Spaniard and took the tie-breaker 9 points to 7.
Del Potro actually felt like the better player throughout the third set. He couldn’t break Nadal’s serve but he’s totally dominated the play, not allowing the Spaniard to take the initiative as often as he did earlier. This culminated during the most pivotal moments of the set, with Nadal down 4-5 as Del Potro broke to love playing some truly extraordinary tennis.
Nadal let Del Potro in the door, score-wise and confidence-wise, with his strangely sub-par second-set tiebreaker. Now Delpo's up 2 sets to one and firing bullets. #wimbledon
— Steve Tignor (@SteveTignor) July 11, 2018
Del Potro’s level finally dipped at 2-2 in the fourth, he also slipped twice which allowed Nadal to take the advantage. The Spaniard gained momentum and started playing a lot better since that moment. He managed to hurt the Argentinian on his serve again at 5-3 but didn’t convert any of the two set points. Nevertheless, he held to 15 with a backhand crosscourt winner and ensured the fifth set.
It seemed like Del Potro has almost nothing left in the tank but the third game of the match was probably the best game of the tournament. It featured everything – Del Potro slipping, stunning “moonwalk” drop shot from Nadal, powerful winners, the Spaniard running into the stands trying to get a ball back and a phenomenal diving volley winner by Del Potro after a 23-shot rally.
— René Denfeld (@Renestance) July 11, 2018
Del Potro survived that third game, but he wasn’t able to survive the fifth one. The aforementioned stamina advantage proved to be decisive in the latter stages of this match and although the Argentinian is a master of “rising from the dead” he couldn’t get back into it. He fought so hard though, had two break points in the sixth game and three in the eighth, Nadal tried to drop shot him to death but he ran for every ball and obviously hit scintillating forehands, the pair produced a hot shot after a hot shot but that one break was enough and the Spaniard took it 7-5, 6-7, 4-6, 6-4, 6-4. Definitely one of the matches of the year and a great argument against removing 5-set matches from Grand Slams. Huge shoutout to Nadal for being the fitter and the more consistent player in this match, deserved the win (but so did Del Potro, a draw would be fitting).
With Federer out of the tournament, it seems like Nadal versus Djokovic should be a match for the title, or at least for being a big favorite in the final. Nadal really tried to throw his match just like Federer did today, just wonder how quickly the match would have ended if the Spaniard converted any of his four set points in the second-set tie-breaker…