Rafael Nadal was still struggling with a painful abdominal muscle injury when Nick Kyrgios praised the Wimbledon semi-final of opposites in the usual grandiose way.
The very different tennis stars will meet for the third time on Friday at the classic lawn – there has never been so much at stake. “The game would make anyone’s mouth water in the world,” enthused the controversial Kyrgios. “This will probably be the most watched match of all time.”
Battered Nadal leaves semifinals open
After his five-set drama against American Taylor Fritz, Nadal left it open whether the much-awaited duel would even take place. The 36-year-old Spaniard only held out with anti-inflammatory drugs and painkillers and celebrated after 4:21 hours. The Spanish press bowed to the energy performance. “Brutal” and “Nadal superhuman”, was the headline in the sports newspaper “Mundo Deportivo”. The rival newspaper “AS” certified: “Nadal, you are the greatest”.
During the game, his father and sister had gestured to him from the stands to finally give up. “It’s something I hate. That’s why I tried to keep going,” said Nadal, announcing further examinations before deciding on another appearance: “There’s something more important than winning Wimbledon, that’s health. Let’s see how it develops.”
But with the dream final against defending champion Novak Djokovic in mind and the chance of the first Grand Slam in men’s tennis in 53 years, Nadal’s renunciation is hardly imaginable. The tireless Mallorcan has done too much to win the Australian Open and French Open despite chronic foot pain. Referring to the British national anthem for Friday, “AS” asked for heavenly help: “God save Nadal”. Only two games in Wimbledon and a triumph at the US Open are missing to win all four major titles of the year like Rod Laver did in 1969.
Controversial Kyrgios in top four for the first time
While Nadal has already celebrated 22 Grand Slam tournament victories in his glorious career, Kyrgios is in the top four for the first time ever. After the quarrelsome Australian with the bad-boy image had caused a stir again in Wimbledon with wild abuse of referees, he showed unusually concentrated performances in the round of 16 and quarter-finals.
For minutes after the smooth three-set win against Chilean Cristian Garin, Kyrgios sat on his chair and looked into nothing. “There was a point where I was almost done with the sport,” he recalled at that moment of dark times. “I wrote this year about my mental state in 2019 at the Australian Open with self-harm and thoughts of suicide.” On the advice of his lawyers, he did not comment on the fact that he had a court date in Australia at the beginning of August.
Kyrgios preferred to talk about the great sporting rivalry with Nadal. Both have already won a direct duel in Wimbledon. In the past, things weren’t just about the pitch. “He lacks respect for the spectators, his opponent and himself,” said Nadal more than three years ago. His uncle Toni added that Kyrgios lacked education and wisdom – the Australian replied at the time that Nadal was just bitter. At least before the game it sounds different now. “We are two completely different personalities,” said Kyrgios. “I think we respect each other like hell.”