Nadal bounced in fifth set

Muller out­du­els star from Spain

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - SPORTS -

LON­DON — Rafael Nadal kept get­ting pushed to the brink of de­feat. He kept resisting.

He dropped the first two sets, then won the next two. He erased two match points in the riv­et­ing fifth set’s 10th game, then an­other two in its 20th game. Only when his fourthround match against 16 th-seeded Gill es Muller of Lux­em­bourg stretched past 4½ hours, the sun­light fad­ing, did fourth-seeded Nadal blink.

Nadal fi­nally suc­cumbed, af­ter re­peat­edly dig­ging him­self out of dif­fi­cult sit­u­a­tions, bro­ken in the last game of a 6-3, 6-4, 3-6, 4-6, 15-13 loss to Muller on Mon­day.

“I played with the right de­ter­mi­na­tion, right pas­sion, right at­ti­tude,” Nadal said, “to win the match.”

But he could not pull through, ex­tend­ing his drought with­out a quar­ter­fi­nal berth at the All Eng­land Club to six years.

“Just tried to hang in there,” Muller said. “Still kept be­liev­ing. Yeah, some­how in the end, I made it.”

Nadal has won two of his 15 Grand Slam cham­pi­onships at Wim­ble­don, and played in the fi­nal three other times, most re­cently in 2011. But since then, Nadal’s ex­its at the All Eng­land Club have come in the first round (2013), sec­ond round (2012, 2015) or fourth round (2014, 2017).

All of those losses, ex­cept Mon­day’s, came

against men ranked 100th or lower.

Muller, 34, is not ex­actly a gi­ant-killer: He had lost 22 con­sec­u­tive matches against play­ers in the top five. And he’d only reached a Grand Slam quar­ter­fi­nal once be­fore, at the 2008 U.S. Open.

Nadal said Muller’s pow­er­ful serve and crisp vol­leys make him “un­com­fort­able” to play.

Now Muller, who also beat Nadal at Wim­ble­don in 2005, will get a much-needed chance to re­cover be­fore fac­ing 2014 U.S. Open cham­pion Marin Cilic in Wed­nes­day’s quar­ter­fi­nals.

Other men’s quar­ter­fi­nals: de­fend­ing cham­pion Andy Mur­ray against Sam Quer­rey of the U.S., Roger Fed­erer against Mi­los Raonic, To­mas Berdych against No­vak Djokovic or Adrian Man­nar­ino. The Djokovic-Man­nar­ino fourth-rounder was post­poned un­til today; it had been sched­uled for No. 1 Court af­ter Nadal-Muller con­cluded.

But Nadal and Muller played on and on, past 8 p. m. in Lon­don, when the de­scend­ing sun’s re­flec­tion off the arena both­ered Nadal so much that he held up ac­tion; chair um­pire Ali Nili asked spec­ta­tors to stand in the way and block the rays. A few games later, Nili told fans to stop do­ing the wave, sug­gest­ing they wait for the next changeover so play could pro­ceed.

Hours ear­lier came what might be in­ter­preted as a bad omen for Nadal: Go­ing through his pre­match rit­u­als on the way to the court, he jumped up so high that he banged his head on the door­way’s tran­som. He stag­gered back a bit, then tried to laugh it off, be­fore rub­bing the top of his head.

“Maybe that’s why the first two sets I was win­ning quite easy,” Muller said, jok­ingly. “Maybe still a lit­tle bit feel­ing dizzy.”

Af­ter all, un­til Mon­day, Nadal hadn’t lost a Grand Slam set since the fifth of the Aus­tralian Open fi­nal in Jan­uary against Fed­erer. From the out­set of the French Open — where he won a record 10th

cham­pi­onship last month — and through his first three matches at Wim­ble­don, Nadal won 28 con­sec­u­tive com­pleted sets at the ma­jors. Healthy and play­ing ter­rif­i­cally, Nadal seemed poised to again be a fac­tor at the All Eng­land Club.

Don’t for­get: From 20062011, he reached the fi­nal in five con­sec­u­tive Wim­ble­don (he missed it in 2009 be­cause of bad knees), win­ning ti­tles in 2008 and 2010.

Nadal ad­justed af­ter los­ing two sets in the open­ing 75 min­utes against Muller. He stepped a lit­tle far­ther be­hind the base­line to give him­self more time to re­act. He also fared bet­ter on his own serve,

fin­ish­ing with 23 aces, an un­usu­ally high to­tal for Nadal and only seven fewer than Muller.

So they headed to a fifth set.

And still, things were not look­ing good for Nadal when he served while down 5- 4 and dou­ble-faulted to trail 15- 40. But Nadal de­flected those first two match points for Muller with an ace and a ser­vice win­ner. Muller’s next two match points came at 109: Nadal deleted the first with a vol­ley win­ner, and the sec­ond dis­ap­peared when Muller shanked a re­turn.

“It was not easy,” Muller said, “to keep be­liev­ing.”

One key: Nadal con­verted

2 of 16 break points. That in­cluded go­ing 0 for 5 in the fifth set, 4 in one game, and was a big rea­son that the Spa­niard lost de­spite re­mark­able to­tals of 77 win­ners and 17 un­forced er­rors.

“When you are in the fifth, against a player like him, (the out­come) just de­pends on a few balls,” Nadal said.

The fifth set alone lasted 2: 15, un­til Nadal pushed a fore­hand long, mean­ing he would not man­age to com­plete what would have been his fourth ca­reer come­back from two sets down.

In­stead, it was Muller who was able to en­joy a vic­tory that seemed to be slip­ping away.

Nadal

AP/TIM IRE­LAND

Gilles Muller ac­knowl­edges the crowd af­ter he held on to up­set No. 4 seed Rafael Nadal 6-3, 6-4, 3-6, 4-6, 15-13 in the fourth round of Wim­ble­don on Mon­day.

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