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Wimbledon 2011

Rafael Nadal suffers injury in fourth-round defeat of Juan Martin del Potro


Rafael Nadal was once again the last man standing after one of Wimbledon’s most fantastic duels with Juan Martin del Potro but even the indefatigable champion admits he is fearful about whether he will be fit to defend his crown in Wednesday’s quarter-finals after suffering a foot injury during this Centre Court epic.

“I’m worried for sure,” admitted Nadal, after conceding that he is still unsure of the exact nature of the injury to a bone in his left foot, which caused him pain throughout the dazzling three hour 52-minute contest, or whether he will be ready to play in the last eight against American Mardy Fish.

“I can’t predict the future. Let’s see what the MRI scan says and see if I have a chance to recover for Wednesday,” said Nadal, who feared that he might have to pull out of the match as early as the first set.

Nadal, who has a history of knee injuries — one of which forced him to forego the chance to defend his 2008 Wimbledon title — revealed he could feel this mystery new injury halfway through the first set. Yet it worsened when he stretched to make a pass to earn a set-point at 6-5 on Del Potro’s serve. “I thought I’d broken my foot, I felt terrible,” he recalled. “I sent for trainer and didn’t know if I’d have the chance to continue.”

It tells you much about the man then that not only was he able to soldier on, going straight back out to win a pulsating tie-break 8-6, but that he also went on to prevail in surely the most astonishing demonstration of power hitting in the event’s 125-year annals. Like a couple of wounded heavyweight champions trying to slug each other into oblivion, they traded blow after ferocious blow — the Argentine had to drag himself injured off the canvas too after a tumble in the third set — before, almost inevitably, Nadal prevailed 7-6, 3-6, 7-6, 6-4 at just after 9pm.

Poor old Del Potro. He hit the champion with everything, played one of the matches of his young life, uncorked forehand uppercuts timed at up to 115mph and resembled the Roger Federer US Open slayer of old. Yet it was still not enough.

For Nadal offered a demonstration of brilliance and resilience that only he could possibly summon. This was epic 21st century tennis, a thunderous game of such consistently jaw-dropping quality that the players even ended up applauding each other.

Twice, Del Potro could only tap his racket in appreciation at Nadal’s Houdini-like feats of escapology as he retrieved the seemingly irretrievable, clawing back an impossible half-volley winner from the baseline, then a winning lob at full stretch.

Del Potro was magnificent. That injured wrist, which kept him out for a year, was in perfect working order as, at times, Nadal just could not cope with the pulverising power of his flat hitting. The anti-inflammatories he had taken before the match to treat another slight injury suffered in his previous round match against Gilles Müller failed to deaden the pain.

Nadal, who was unhappy about being given a time violation in the first set, found the most shooting pain came when he was trying to push off the ankle to defend on his forehand side.

Yet while he was having his foot taped up and having a lidocaine patch applied before the first set tie-break, Del Potro grumbled to umpire Carlos Ramos about why he had allowed Nadal such lengthy recovery time.

After losing the tie-break with a double fault, he returned, enraged, to his seat, hurled his racket down and berated Ramos in Spanish. Yet energised by his own rage and gambling at the net more regularly to discomfit Nadal, Del Potro levelled the match.

At 2-2 in the third set, Nadal wrong-footed Del Potro with a cross-court forehand, which seemed to twist the lanky Argentine in two like a discombobulated giraffe. He slumped 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 in the locker room. Yet, within 10 minutes he was back out, trading punch for punch.

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.

Now, the champion would not be denied, finally cracking Del Potro’s mighty serve after 3½ hours of trying and eventually punching his fists to the night skies like some Roman gladiator after one final scything forehand. What a game, what a man. Who or what can stop him now? Only injury, one fears.

It’s just not tennis…
Both players were happy to test the umpire’s patience on Centre Court.

Nadal is given a time violation warning before serving. Gamesmanship rating 8/10

Nadal shows off his full range of grimaces while being treated for an ankle injury. 2/10

Del Potro collapses with an injury and hobbles off for more lengthy treatment. 4/10

Del Potro whinges to the umpire about the light. 9/10

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