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Rafale Nadal needed five sets to beat Juan Martin del Potro at 2018 Wimbledon on Wednesday and advance to the semi-finals. Nadal was 2-1 down after three sets, but rallied to force a decider, before closing out a 7-5, 6-7(7), 4-6, 6-4, 6-4 win.
The two-time winner will meet Novak Djokovic in the last four on Friday.
Nadal started strong on serve to power his way into a 3-2 lead during the opening set. The set stayed on serve until Del Potro secured the first break point for a 4-3 lead.
It put an end to Nadal’s dominance on his own serve, which was explained by Andy Murray during commentary for the BBC (h/t Stuart Fraser of The Times):
Stuart Fraser @stu_fraser
A well-researched Andy Murray reeling off the stats again during commentary. Says that Rafael Nadal is the all-time No 1 in terms of points won on his second serve. He’s right.
Nadal soon returned the favour with a break of his own, before another hold left Del Potro rattled. It also meant the ‘King of Clay’ was one game away from taking the set.
Del Potro fought back, but Nadal held again after the former wasted a break point. Nadal was back to needing one game to claim the set.
The problem was del Potro’s serve became more powerful as the set progressed:
BBC Tennis @bbctennis
That 130mph serve from Del Potro…
#bbctennis #wimbledon https://t.co/j1P6jJIqtZ
Nadal battled hard to earn his first break, something he eventually collected when Del Potro hit the net from his backhand.
A deft lob helped Nadal take the first game of the second set, before each player held serve. Nadal was in the lead and wowing both the crowd and his opponent with an impressive range of shots:
David Law @DavidLawTennis
Delpo hits his biggest forehand at Nadal, Nadal gets out of the way and somehow hooks his own forehand cross court for a winner. Delpo chases it down, runs up to a spectator and gestures/smiles to the bloke as if to say ‘I don’t know what to do. Any ideas?’
The second set stayed on serve until 4-4, then both players traded breaks for 5-5. Eventually, things went to a tiebreak Del Potro won to capture the set.
It was Del Potro who held sway early in the third, building a 3-2 lead. He went 4-3 in front, before closing out the set to increase the pressure on Nadal.
There was no escaping the pressure when Del Potro held to close the gap to 5-4 in the fourth. Nadal was left to serve out the set, something the Spaniard managed after some fine work at the net.
The early advantage in the decider went Nadal’s way, despite both players pulling out all the stops for points:
Live Tennis @livetennis
What a dramatic game, it had literally EVERYTHING! Delpo’s 100th slip, Nadal in the stands, deft volleys, overheads, drop shots, lobs.
The fifth seed fends off BPs for the hold 2-1 https://t.co/EApyKhMhiv
Nadal saved a break point at 2-2, then took the lead courtesy of a strong backhand. He saved another break point to inch closer to the semi-final, but just couldn’t put Del Potroaway during a terrific and gruelling fifth set.
A set littered with one lengthy rally after another, eventually went to Nadal on serve, finally giving him the match.
There’s no doubt Djokovic will be the fresher of the two when they meet on Friday, after Del Potro took a lot out of Nadal. Yet the latter is in the better form overall and remains formidable once he gets to the business end of a tournament.