Rafael Nadal shows stomach for Wimbledon fight but injury may curtail final push
Having had it numbed by injections to pave the way for his French Open win, he targeted a different approach to get himself ready for Wimbledon.
The foot will always be an issue, a chronic problem which he will have to constantly manage for the rest of his career, but there was confidence it was not sufficiently problematic to derail his SW19 ambitions at any point.
Instead, an abdominal injury might prove to be his undoing. He has had the area taped up for a while now, but it required off-court medical treatment during his five-set win over Taylor Fritz yesterday, with his family and team imploring he quit the match.
Most other players would have thrown in the towel, and Nadal might still be forced to do so. He has 24 hours in which to recover to face Nick Kyrgios in a potentially blockbuster semi-final.
But the reality is that, as the Spaniard packed up at Wimbledon last night, he genuinely had no idea whether he would be able to take to the court to face the Australian.
“I don’t know,” he said of the chance of winning his fitness battle. “Honestly, I can’t give you a clear answer because, if I gave you a clear answer and tomorrow another thing happens, I will be a liar.
“I don’t have a decision. I need to know different opinions and I need to check everything the proper way. That is something more important than winning Wimbledon, that is health.”
Were it not Wimbledon, Nadal might well have packed up already. The clean sweep of Grand Slams in 2022 remains on the cards, so too the threat he might do some lasting damage to his ailing body.
During the match, he was given anti-inflammatories and an analgesic to enable him to carry on the match, while the physio treated the muscle but was unable to do much to dull the pain and discomfort.
Nadal admitted he had toyed with quitting, but said: “I just wanted to give myself a chance. Not easy to leave the tournament. Not easy to leave Wimbledon, even if the pain was hard. I wanted to finish. That’s what I did. I fought. I’m proud about the fighting spirit and the way that I managed to be competitive under those conditions.”
Today, Nadal will have tests carried out on the injury but he was still planning a practice session this afternoon. He was adamant his groundstrokes were not hugely curtailed by the problem against Fritz, but serving remains an issue and he was forced to adapt his style in answer to the pain he was feeling on court.
Such is the 36-year-old’s fighting spirit, he looks likelier to start the match against Kygrios than not but, if he does, there will still be questions over how the body holds up.
It would be a shame for them not to meet at Wimbledon, the scene of two of their memorable matches. It was here that a teenage Kyrgios knocked out Nadal in the fourth round and where Nadal got his revenge five years later.
Kyrgios slightly overplayed the hype by predicting it would “probably be the most-watched match of all time” and yet it is a tantalisingly prospect.
Looking ahead to that match-up, Kyrgios said: “It would be pretty special to play Rafa here. We’ve had some absolute battles on that Centre Court. He’s won one against me, and I’ve won one against him. I feel like that would be a mouth-watering kind of encounter for everyone around the world.”
Unlike with Nadal, Kyrgios’s obstacles to get to this point have been more mental than physical. After his straight-sets win over Cristian Garin, he spoke openly about his past mental-health issues.
He talked of “dark thoughts” and “self-harm” and how he had come close to walking away from tennis altogether.
“There was a point where I was almost done with the sport,” he said. “I posted this year about the kind of mental state I was in in 2019 when I was at the Australian Open, with self-harm and suicidal thoughts and stuff.
“To be a semi-finalist at Wimbledon, it’s a special accomplishment. If you asked anyone if I was able to do that the last couple of years, I think everyone would have probably said, ‘no, he doesn’t have the mental capacity, he doesn’t have the fitness capacity, he doesn’t have the discipline’.
“I almost started doubting myself, with all that traffic coming in and out of my mind.”