‘Manic Monday’ is the apt description to cover the first day of the second week of The Championships. Not only are all the fourth round singles played, that is in both the men’s and women’s events – the only Grand Slam to do so – there are also a great number of doubles including mixed, and a plethora of junior matches to keep everyone on their toes.
Just tried to hang in there. Still kept believing. Yeah, somehow in the end, I made it. Gilles Muller
So while spectators arrived in great expectation, they didn’t realise that they were about to witness one of the epic Wimbledon encounters to bring Manic Monday to a conclusion – a match which lasted nearly five hours and saw the departure of one the most popular players on the circuit, Rafa Nadal.
It was an extraordinary match. The world number two seeded four at The Championships, just couldn’t get past the defences of the 16th seeded Gilles Muller, who stood his ground solidly throughout despite the repeated attacks from the Spaniard.
In turn he kept pushing Nadal to the brink of defeat but the former champion, renowned for his gritty determination, kept bouncing back, in the first instance recovering from a two set deficit!
The Mallorcan also overcame two match points in the 10th game of the fifth set, then another two in the its 20th game and with the light fading, he finally succumbed after a gruelling 4-hours and 48-minutes of tense, pulsating play, 6-3 6-4 3-6 4-6 15-13, to the disbelief of his opponent.
“I played with the right determination, right passion, right attitude, to win the match” Nadal said later, failing for a sixth year to reach the quarter-finals at Wimbledon
“Just tried to hang in there,” Muller admitted. “Still kept believing. Yeah, somehow in the end, I made it.”
For Nadal, who has suddenly rediscovered his form, especially on clay, it was a disastrous result but he has been unable to replicate his performance of 2011 when he made the final for the last time.
For the 34-year-old Muller, it wasn’t surprising that his reaction of disbelief and incredulity at the umpire calling the match in his favour, for it was only the second time in his career that he has reached the last eight at a grand slam. The previous occasion was a qualifier at the US Open back in 2008.
In addition his record against top five players has been miserable with 22consecutive losses against them.
On this occasion he never wavered from his battle plan, remained calm throughout with stoic demeanour despite Nadal continually thwarting him, especially on the match points. He served powerfully with Nadal unable to read it in the first half of the match, and adopted a serve and volley game which the 30-year-old Spaniard found uncomfortable.
Nadal was certainly irritable. On his way to No1 court waiting to go out into the arena, he hit his head while going through his usual pre-match preparations, jumping in the corridor. This time he struck his head on the doorway’s transom. He shrugged that incident off with a smile whilst he rubbed the bruise!
Referring to the incident later, Muller commented jokingly: “Maybe that’s why the first two sets I was winning quite easy. Maybe [he was] still a little bit feeling dizzy.”
As the match progressed, the sun slowly dropped down and at one stage, its rays reflected badly onto the court when Nadal was serving. He complained to the umpire Ali Nill, who having descended from his perch and confirmed the problem, asked spectators to stand in front of the offending panel so that the match could continue.
It certainly wasn’t Nadal’s day. He lost the first two sets in just 75-minutes, Adjusting his game by standing a bit further back, he recovered to push Muller into that extraordinary fifth set which lasted two-hours and 15-minutes.
Nadal hit 23 aces to counter Muller’s 30. Muller though made 10 double faults to Nadal’s 2. Nadal also struck 77 winners and made 17 unforced errors
One of those double faults came when Nadal was serving and gave Muller two match points in the 10th game of the fifth. Nadal saved them with an ace and a service winner. Ten games later, Muller stood with two more opportunities to close out the match, but again Nadal struck back with a service winner and then forced a mistake from Muller, who shanked a return. On the final and fifth match point, Nadal pushed a forehand long to bring the match to conclusion.
“It was not easy to keep believing,” Muller said as he remembered those wasted opportunities.
“When you are in the fifth, against a player like him, (the outcome) just depends on a few balls,” Nadal said.
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, the Croat having made the last eight for the fourth consecutive year with a comfortable and routine 6-2 6-2 6-2 win over Roberto Bautista Agut.
Cilic, who won the U.S. Open in 2014, has never before made the Wimbledon semi-finals and is now being considered the dark horse for the title as his confidence is growing. “It’s quite high, considering I’m playing really well last few weeks,” he said. “With all the parts of my game, really satisfied everything is working extremely good. The level is, I would say, quite solid.”
In the other matches, the top seed and defending champion Andy Murray, eased past Benoit Paire, a player who can produce unexpected results and for the first set, looked to be troublesome. However the Briton came through 7-6(1) 6-4 6-4and will face Sam Querry who survived the battle of the big servers when he beat Kevin Anderson of South Africa, 5-7 7-6(5) 6-3 6-7(1) 6-3.
In the bottom half, ‘Daddy’ Roger Federer gave ‘Baby Fed’ Grigor Dimitrov a tennis lesson as he dispatched the Bulgarian 6-4 6-2 6-4 and will now face last year’s finalist, Milos Raonic who in turn, defeated the fast rising youngster and future grand slam champion, Alexander Zverev4-6 7-5 4-6 7-5 6-1. Similarly Tomas Berdych put paid to Dominic Thiem’s aspirations 6-3 6-7(1) 6-3 3-6 6-3.
The Novak Djokovic match against the unseeded Adrian Mannarino was postponed to Tuesday, a casualty to the lengthy Muller/Nadal match which it was due to follow.