Nadal epic win comes at a cost
Like a couple of wounded heavyweight champions trying to slug each other into oblivion, they traded blow after ferocious blow and had to haul themselves groggily off the canvas but, after surely the most fantastic duel of power hitting in Wimbledon's 125-year history, the unreal Rafael Nadal was once again the last man standing in the Centre Court gloom.
However, as many a heavyweight has found, even the winner can't emerge unscathed.
Having come through the epic battle, defending champion Nadal now fears his Wimbledon campaign may be over after he suffered a foot injury during the titanic tussle with Juan Martin del Potro.
Nadal revealed that he will have a scan on the injury, which he sustained in the first set of his 7-6 (8/6) 3-6 7-6 (7/4) 6-4 victory and required close to 10 minutes of treatment before the start of the tie-break.
"I don't know what the injury is yet. I will have an MRI (scan) as soon as possible," Nadal said. "I am worried for sure. I will have the scan and then let's see if I can recover for Wednesday."
Nadal, who missed the defence of his 2008 title due to a knee injury, admitted he came close to retiring from the match.
"I felt the problem for half of the first set. It was really bad," the world No 1 added. "At 6-5 I felt terrible. I pushed hard with a forehand and I just felt something crush in the back of the foot. I didn't know what went on. The pain stayed with me all the match."
Nadal thinks the strapping that his trainer put on under his sock on his left foot saved him.
"With the tape it changed the direction of the support and it didn't hurt me that much," he said. "To hit my forehand was very tough."
Should Nadal's injury not end his campaign, he will take on American Mardy Fish in the quarter-finals tomorrow and could then play Andy Murray in the semi-finals if the Scot beats Feliciano Lopez.
Despite the injury though, one had to feel a huge level of sympathy for Del Potro. He hit the champion with everything, played one of the matches of his young life, uncorked 115mph forehand uppercuts and looked every inch the man who floored Roger Federer in New York two years ago. Yet it was still not enough.
This was epic 21st century tennis, a thunderous game of consistently jaw-dropping quality which finally came to its conclusion just after 9.0, with Del Potro, wearied after his heroic efforts and also carrying his own bruises from a third-set tumble, finally having to succumb to one last murderous Nadal forehand.
The Argentinian was magnificent. That injured wrist that kept him out for a year was shown to be forgotten history because nobody in the game can hit this hard or this flat. Yet Nadal handled both his power and his own new injury.
The remarkable drama really began at the end of the first set with Del Potro serving at 5-6 down, when Nadal, at full stretch, curled a glorious forehand winner but, in doing so, ended up grimacing in agony as a sharp pain coursed through his left foot.
Del Potro clawed back a set point and won the game, but before the tie-break Nadal called for the trainer and was also treated by the doctor. Del Potro looked on unimpressed, grumbling to umpire Carlos Ramos about why he had allowed Nadal this lengthy recovery time when all he wanted to do was to crack on with the fight.
His mood was not improved when Nadal, after his 10-minute break, ended up saving a set point and finally prevailing 8-6 in a magnificent slugfest of a tiebreak which ended in sorry anticlimax when Del Potro served a double fault. Enraged, he returned to his seat, hurled his racket down and berated Ramos. Sadly, the nuances of this rant were lost to 15,000 non-Spanish-speaking patrons.
But he was energised by his own rage, deciding to venture to the net more regularly to offer Nadal further discomfiting food for thought and, finally, in their 20th game, he earned the match's first break. At one set all, Del Potro was unashamedly trying to whip the crowd into a frenzy, pumping his arms to encourage them to support him, but he need not have bothered; they were all entranced anyway.
At times, he looked like the man who had handed Nadal his most humbling defeat, 6-2 6-2 6-2 at Flushing Meadows in 2009.
Yet silence greeted the next twist in the drama, with the scores locked at 2-2, when Nadal wrong-footed Del Potro with a cross-court forehand which seemed to twist the lanky Argentine in two like a discombobulated giraffe.
Del Potro lay on the lawn in agony and, clutching his left hip, had to be helped to his feet by an official before being led away for another medical time-out back in the locker room.
Yet, within 10 minutes he was back out there punching again. Against anyone else, you felt it must lead to surrender, yet Nadal withstood the barrages with such indomitability that it somehow felt unsurprising when it was Del Potro who buckled in the next tie-break, hitting a couple of weak forehands as Nadal took it 7-4.
Now, the champion finally scented blood. The light was closing in fast and Nadal knew he would have to win in four sets or face a late-night showdown under the roof. After three and a half hours of trying, he finally cracked Del Potro's serve. Who or what can stop him now? Only injury, one suspects. (© Daily Telegraph, London)
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