Rafael Nadal’s five-set heroics against Taylor Fritz in the Wimbledon quarters was emblematic of both his season, and career.
Nadal overcame an abdominal injury to stop the rapidly-improving American 3-6 7-5 6-3 7-5 7-6 [10-4] in an absorbing Centre Court battle.
Members of the Spaniard’s own team were urging him to retire from the match as early as the second set.
But Nadal persisted, adapted to his discomfort – which mostly affected his serve – and, after almost four-and-a-half hours, struck a final forehand winner to progress.
He is through to a third straight Wimbledon semifinal, where Nick Kyrgios awaits; the Australian beat Cristian Garin in straight sets earlier on Wednesday.
“Emotional match. Important victory,” said Nadal, who lost to Fritz last time they met, in the Indian Wells final in March.
“For me was tough to (consider) retired in the middle of the match… I did it a couple of times in my tennis career. Is something that I hate to do it.
“So I just keep trying, and that's it.”
Nadal remains on course for an immortalising calendar-year Grand Slam after winning the Australian Open and Roland Garros titles earlier this season.
Yet there were countless moments during Wednesday’s battle with Fritz where a 19th consecutive win at the majors looked unlikely.
The 36-year-old trailed two-sets-to-one, and came within three points of defeat deep in both the fourth and fifth sets.
At one stage Nadal departed the court for a medical timeout, but there is little medical staff can do to assist with an abdominal injury; Nadal received anti-inflammatories and pain-killers, plus some massage in the hope of relaxing the muscle area.
But it did little, and this was reflected in his first-serve speed, which fell to 172km/h against Fritz after averaging 185km/h in his previous two matches.
Still, Nadal could compete relatively unimpeded from the baseline once the ball was in play, and he was able to find a solution.
“I just wanted to give myself a chance. Not easy to leave the tournament. Not easy to leave Wimbledon, even if the pain was hard,” he reflected.
“I wanted to finish. Doesn't matter. Well, I prefer to win, with victory or defeat. That's what I did. I fighted.
“Proud about the fighting spirit and the way that I managed to be competitive under that conditions.”
Such an effort has been the theme of Nadal’s astonishing 2022 season.
He began it completely underdone, having missed the back half of 2021 due to a chronic foot condition – an something which flared again in Rome.
He sustained a cracked rib at Indian Wells – which he carried into his final against Fritz – and was forced to sit out another six weeks.
And after a seemingly-successful radiofrequency ablation nerve treatment for his troublesome foot prior to Wimbledon, this abdominal problem has emerged at the same event.
It makes it truly remarkable Nadal has succeeded in such a manner throughout the season, one in which he has collected four titles and won 35 of 38 matches.
Should he go on to win Wimbledon – and that is a big if – he would become just the third man in the Open Era, after Rod Laver and Novak Djokovic, to collect the first three major titles in one season.
“I have to say that I think unfortunately, or fortunately, I was able to manage, to improve, and to adapt to the circumstances that my body presents to me to keep being competitive under any circumstances, no?” Nadal said.
“I was able to improve my tennis depending on the needs. Something that I am happy with.
“By the way, I'm playing great. No, no, I am enjoying a lot. The level of tennis, if we put away the problems, something that's difficult, the level of tennis, the feeling that I am having with the ball on my hand is honestly great.
“I am feeling myself playing very well.”
He will hope those feelings will persist against the resurgent Kyrgios, who, at age 27, has broken through for his first ever Grand Slam semifinal.
As a teenager, Kyrgios stunned Nadal at Wimbledon in 2014 to reach the last eight; by progressing to the quarters eight years later in 2022, he equalled an Open Era record for the longest span between first and second Wimbledon quarterfinals.
Nadal, who avenged that Kyrgios defeat at the All England Club in 2019, simply hopes to be healthy enough to take to the court.
“I am used to hold pain and to play with problems,” said Nadal, who would be seeking a 20th straight Grand Slam match win on Friday.
“But let's see. It's obvious that today is nothing new. I had these feelings for a couple of days. Without a doubt, today was the worst day. Have been an important increase of pain and limitation.
“I managed to win that match. Let's see what's going on tomorrow.”