LONDON — Winning from abdominal pain, unable to play his customary relentless style of tennis, Rafael Nadal worried that he might need to stop playing in the Wimbledon quarterfinals against Taylor Fritz.
Up in the Center Court stands, Nadal’s father was waving his arms, motioning to the 22-time Grand Slam champion to quit. Not surprisingly, perhaps, his kid didn’t listen. Nadal stayed out there, adjusted his service motion and his strategy — and figured out a way to win.
With much of the crowd roaring and standing after Nadal’s best strokes, he twice erased one-set deficits against 11th-seeded Fritz and emerged with a 3-6, 7-5, 3-6, 7-5, 7-6 (10 -4) victory Wednesday to reach his eighth semifinal at the All England Club.
“For a lot of moments,” Nadal said, “I was thinking, ‘Maybe I will not be able to finish the match.'”
On Friday, Nadal is scheduled to play Nick Kyrgios, a 27-year-old Australian who will be making his Grand Slam semifinal debut after a 6-4, 6-3, 7-6 (5) victory over Cristian Garin of Chile.
But will he? After being given anti-inflammatories during Wednesday’s match to “relax” the muscle, he said he wasn’t sure of his availability for Friday’s semifinal vs. Kyrgios.
“I don’t know,” Nadal said. “Honestly, I can’t give you a clear answer.”
The other men’s semifinal will be No. 1 Novak Djokovic against No. 9 Cam Norrie.
Nadal got to his 38th career major semifinal by denying what would have been a first such appearance for Fritz, a 24-year-old American who defeated Nadal in the final at Indian Wells, California, in March. That ended a 20-match winning streak for Nadal, who was bothered that day by a painful rib injury.
This time, the problem was a muscle in his stomach area, which had some athletic tape, as was also the case for Nadal’s fourth-round match Monday, when he declined to discuss it. On Wednesday, Nadal left the court with a trainer for a medical timeout while up 4-3 in the second set; Fritz paced around the baseline waiting for action to resume.
“It’s difficult,” Nadal said after the match of his abdominal issue. “Nothing can be fixed when you have a thing like this. That’s it.”
Nadal acknowledged that giving up went through his mind. Perhaps that possibility was in Fritz’s thoughts, too, because his level of play slipped precipitously for stretches.
He pretty much handed over the second set of what would become a 4-hour, 21-minute contest under a sky of slate clouds. After Fritz took the third set, his big serve got broken three times in the next.
Nadal occasionally would watch a ball off Fritz’s orange racket fly by. Nadal couldn’t move the way he usually does. His trademark grunts of “Uhhhh!” were rare. He didn’t generate the usual zip on his serves, which dipped from a high of 120 mph to barely above 100 mph. He sought to end exchanges with a quick-strike forehand or a drop shot — sometimes with success, often not.
“A tough afternoon. Not an easy match at all,” Nadal said. “In the abdominal, something is not going well.”
Still, he summoned his best for last, grabbing a 5-0 lead in the closing tiebreaker — the first-to-10, win-by-two format starting at 6-all in a fifth set is new to Wimbledon this year – – and then five of the last six points. By doing so, Nadal extended his unbeaten mark in Grand Slam matches in 2022 to 19-0 as he seeks to add a trophy at Wimbledon to his 2022 triumphs at the Australian Open in January, then the French Open in June. For everything that he has accomplished, the 36-year-old Spaniard never has won the first three Slam events of a season.
Nadal leads Kyrgios 6-3 in their head-to-head series, but they are even at 1-all at Wimbledon: in 2014, Kyrgios, just 19 and ranked 144th, announced himself to the world by stunning Nadal; Nadal won the rematch in 2019 after Kyrgios spent the night before at a local pub into the wee hours.
“Obviously, we know, two completely different personalities,” Kyrgios said of Nadal. “I feel like we respect the hell out of each other, though. I feel like that would be a mouth-watering kind of encounter for everyone around the world. That would probably be the most-watched match of all time. I would argue that.”
Even Kyrgios did not think this day ever would happen. He became the first unseeded and lowest-ranked man to get to the final four at the All England Club since 2008 by playing what, for him, amounts to a restrained and efficient brand of tennis against Garin.
“I thought my ship had sailed,” Kyrgios said. “Obviously, I didn’t go about things great early in my career and may have wasted that little window. But just really proud of the way I’ve just come back out here.”
Kyrgios, who is ranked 40th, has garnered more attention for his behavior on and off the court than for his skills with a racket in hand. His match against unseeded Garin, 26, came a day after police in Canberra, Australia, said that Kyrgios is due in court next month to face an allegation of common assault stemming from something that happened in December.
“I have a lot of thoughts, a lot of things I want to say, kind of my side about it,” Kyrgios said at his postmatch news conference Wednesday. “Obviously I’ve been advised by my lawyers that I’m unable to say anything at this time.”
After his first-round victory at Wimbledon last week, Kyrgios was fined $10,000 for spitting in the direction of a heckling spectator. His third-round victory over No. 4 seed Stefanos Tsitsipas was as contentious as can be, and Kyrgios was fined another $4,000 for an audible obscenity; afterwards, Tsitsipas called him a “bully” and “evil.”
Worth noting, too, though, is how well Kyrgios has been playing. His serve, in particular, is among the best in the game, regularly topping 130 mph, and he pounded 17 aces against Garin while getting broken just once — in the very first game, at love.
His big forehands are terrific, too, but little else is conventional about Kyrgios, as noted from his on-court comments after the match.
“I don’t have a coach,” Kyrgios said with a smile. “I would never put that burden on someone.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.