Rafael Nadal defies pain and his father’s pleas to quit in epic win over Taylor Fritz

Taylor Fritz, 6ft 5in of towering American self-belief, did his best to bury a wounded legend here on Wednesday, but the 36-year-old Rafael Nadal would not stay down – against the advice of his worried father – and prevailed over five fluctuating sets to reach his eighth Wimbledon semi-final. 

He is a win against Nick Kyrgios away from the final – possibly for a 60th time against Novak Djokovic – and the chance to win his third grand slam title on the spin. What a year he’s had.

Fritz almost had him in the fourth set but could not finish it and Nadal made him pay, winning 3-6, 7-5, 3-6, 7-5, 7-6 (4) in 4hr 20min, the fourth-longest match of the championships.  

“I enjoy a lot playing these kind of matches,” Nadal said. “It was a tough afternoon against a great player. It was not easy at all, I’m just very happy to be in the semi-finals.

The abdominal is not going well. I had to find a way to serve a little bit different. For a moment I thought I might not be able to finish the match.”

Nadal said he was going to have some more tests. “I am used to pain. It’s nothing new,” he added. “But without doubt today was the worst day.”

Relying on his long, strong right arm to get into the fight with two aces – 129mph wide and 132mph down the middle to go with 58 free points that had helped him to enter the quarter-finals – Fritz still found himself a break down inside the first quarter of an hour.

Nadal’s opening ace – 120mph down the middle – added to his relatively modest tournament total of 28, although he was putting serious revs on his top-spun forehand.

However, when Fritz broke in the sixth game to get back on serve, there was a palpable mood shift. Fritz, 24, came to the championships in good form, winning Eastbourne.

He had fresh recollections also of defeating Nadal when they last met, in the Indian Wells final. But memories are for scrapbooks. And each of them had something different to read into their past.

The Spaniard, who many thought would never win another Wimbledon title after his last one 12 years ago, had the incentive of reaching an eighth semi-final here (and 38th in all majors), not to mention the tantalising prospect of matching Rod Laver’s calendar grand slam of 1969.