Rafael Nadal, the comeback king of tennis, is through to the quarter-finals after defeating Russia's Mikhail Youzhny from two sets down, 4-6, 3-6, 6-1, 6-2, 6-2. It was the 21-year-old Spaniard's seventh consecutive five-set win and takes his career record to 9-2 in five-setters.
The match was staged on Court 2, to the delight of a packed audience of people without tickets for the main show courts. For two sets it seemed the setting would live up to its notorious reputation of the Graveyard of Champions. Such great players as John McEnroe and Pete Sampras have lost here.
Nadal arrived at Wimbledon fresh from his third straight victory at the French Open and has not always looked comfortable with the combination of grass and inclement weather. But there is no doubting the commitment, heart and strength of this great competitor. Once again, he simply wore down an opponent to breaking point and then ran away with the match, capturing 18 of the last 23 games to earn a quarter-final match with the Czech Tomas Berdych.
The turning point came at the end of the third set when, having matched Nadal stride for stride and blow for blow, Youzhny needed treatment for a back ailment, a recurrence of the injury that forced him to withdraw from the Halle tournament quarter-finals. Once again, the relentless Rafa had run the opposition to standstill.
How different it had been at the beginning of this three hours and five minutes match as Youzhny, sporting a crew cut and the beginnings of a beard, mixed his game to devastating effect, pinning back Nadal with deep groundstrokes and then drop-shotting brilliantly. Nadal clung on grimly until he was broken in the 10th game, going set point down on a double-fault and then hitting a forehand into the tramlines.
Having won the last two games of the opening set, Youzhny then took the first three of the second set to establish a lead that Nadal, still battling to impose his game on the determined Russian, never looked like overhauling. He simply had no answer to Youzhny's serving skills and did not get near a break point before finding himself trailing by two sets.
That is the stage where the tough get going, and Nadal duly did. Finally earning a break point with a forehand pass, Nadal then went 2-0 ahead as the Russian double-faulted. At last Youzhny's speed around the court was slowing, possibly due to the onset of back problems, and Nadal cruised through the third set in 27 minutes, conceding just five points on his serve.
Youzhny spent the next three minutes flat on his face having his back treated and there were two further permitted treatments at subsequent change-overs. It seemed as if he might be saved by the onset of rain at 1-1 in the fourth set, but the shower was a brief one and they played through it.
When Nadal swept the last three games of the fourth set to level the match at two sets all , Youzhny, having used up his treatment time, took a toilet break. But now, roared on by the crowd, Nadal was in full, commanding flight, breaking for a 2-1 lead with a crunching, deep forehand that Youzhny could only swat into the bottom of the net.
Now there was no hope for a Youzhny comeback, as he struggled with his backhand swing and saw the games slipping away. Having missed one match point at 5-1, when Youzhny pulled off a daring drop shot, Nadal marched to one of his more impressive victories at Wimbledon, serving out to love and clinching it with a backhand winner.
Written by Ronald Atkin