Rafael Nadal’s Wimbledon charge continues but is far from perfect with next match no rollover
CENTRE COURT — Having had a poster of Rafael Nadal on his bedroom wall as a child, Botic van de Zandschulp is now getting used to – but arguably sick of – facing his hero in real life.
A second meeting in as many months left Van de Zandschulp exiting another grand slam at the hands of Nadal, who bested him in three at the French Open and did so again at Wimbledon on Monday.
Van de Zandschulp had hoped he would get a chance to “hurt” Nadal on grass this time around, but few opportunities arose, and instead the 6-4 6-2 7-6(6) victory goes down on paper as a straight-sets win for the Spaniard, who continues that charge for grand slam No 23 – and his third of the year – at a pace.
In truth, though, there were times where Nadal toiled somewhat, more as his own worst enemy – not least when he failed to serve out for the match at 5-3 and then squandered three match points in the tie-break – and he will be chasing the necessary improvements when taking on No 11 seed Taylor Fritz next for a place in the semi-finals.
“I played a bad game [when serving for the match], but it was a positive match against a difficult opponent,” Nadal said on court afterwards.
“To be able to be at the quarter-finals here after three years away is amazing.”
Both players were tested on serve early on, with Van de Zandschulp saving two break points in the second game, but it was Nadal who found the breakthrough at a crucial time.
As is typical with players of Nadal and Novak Djokovic’s ilk, a first break brought with it the set at 6-4, and it was the opening blow of a quick one-two as a break early in the second set soon followed.
From level to a set and a break down in minutes, Van de Zandschulp desperately searched for a breakthrough, but instead the unforced errors were racking up despite Nadal looking a little sluggish on serve.
Nevertheless, despite sending over just 48 per cent of his first serves, Nadal wrapped up the second set with another break.
Van de Zandschulp was unwilling to roll over and broke immediately in the third set, but that advantage was immediately extinguished by Nadal, who signalled that normal order had been resumed with a swift hold to love.
From there, Nadal got the break with a cross-court backhand winner, but when serving for the match at 5-3 he was broken, Van de Zandschulp unexpectedly extending the stay for himself and the crowd on Centre Court.
A slip added to Nadal’s woes, particularly with it coming when he would have rather been back in the changing room. It was but a slip though – and come the tie-break, a 8-6 win helped him seal victory.
In his eighth Wimbledon quarter-final, Nadal is up against Fritz, the American who is yet to drop a set after four rounds.
Fritz is fifth for aces (58) in the men’s singles so far, boasting one of the best serves on tour – 136mph his fastest at these Championships – but that is not the only tool in his box.
The reigning Indian Wells champion – having beat Nadal in that final – is into his first grand slam quarter-final, and rarely strays from attack-mode, and when firing this solid baseline game makes him a match for almost anyone.
The 40 winners in his last match outlined this, so too the 41 in his three-set win prior, but of course Nadal returns more that most – making it a fascinating match-up come Wednesday.
“He’s playing well. He’s having an amazing year, and he beat me in the Masters final. It’s going to be a tough match, but we’re in the quarter-finals of Wimbledon so what can I expect,” Nadal added.