The blockbuster remake was off. One of the dashing male leads from the epic of ten years before was out of the picture. But no one told Rafael Nadal.
Sure, news of Roger Federer’s shock defeat was relayed to Centre Court during a change of ends in his quarter-final with Juan Martin del Potro but he thought he’d carry on, anyway.
Carry on with the precise placing of his water and energy drink, a little piece of OCD now woven into the tournament’s tapestry. Come back from two sets to one down. Square up to the Argentine’s 131mph serves. Stay out there for 4 hours and 48 minutes. And finally – finally – triumph.
Clawing in vain at the last point, Del Potro was spreadeagled on the turf, the last of his many visits there, face down, refusing to give up the heroic battle. Nadal vaulted the net, picked him up and hugged him. Brand-new commentator Andy Murray declared it a “great, great match - I felt very, very lucky to have seen it.”
The Spaniard, who won 7-5, 6-7 (7-9), 4-6, 6-4, 6-4 and will now play Novak Djokovic for a place in Sunday’s final, was thrilled, relieved and amazed in equal amounts.“It was a very emotional match with a great quality of tennis, especially in the last set - some incredible points,” he said. “Of course I’m very, very sorry for Juan Martin. He’s a fantastic opponent and player and in some way he deserved the victory.”
Sporting words for the most sporting and most thrilling match, and one destined to be remembered for a very long time by all the super-discerning sophisticates who stayed utterly gripped, not wandering off sheepishly to watch some football game or other on TV.
The match began snoozily, or as snoozily as any featuring 131mph serves can. It was Del Potro’s somnambulance which lent the contest its early languidity. But when you’re forehand is as epic as his there’s usually no need to scurry. Nadal, though, is one of the great scurriers. Thus it was a match of high contrast, the scamperer vs the stroller, the grunter vs the quiet man, Rafa vs Delpo. The latter did emit a small gasp, the sound of despair. He would lose the first set with the next point.
The 6ft 6ins Del Potro gives the impression he doesn’t like to run. In any full-on collision between these two towers he would have been the one left standing. Nadal, on the other hand, ran everywhere. Even from his chair back to the baseline to resume the action. He looked like he’d feel self-conscious having a siesta in the fine Spanish tradition.
Glimmers of a breakthrough were few. Maybe Nadal had more of them in the first two sets but at such times Del Potro could would summon a loyal, lethal, friend - “Anyone here in trouble?” - and the magnificent forehand would do its stuff.
Nadal seemed to be in control, right up to the tiebreak in the second set. Del Potro’s backhand was probably the least effective shot on display, a consequence of a horror wrist injury, but his courage was huge. He wrested the set from Nadal and by the third set was even hitting backhand winners, although the clinching point would be won with the you-know-what, a crosscourt scorcher.
Incredibly, the point of the match didn’t arrive until the four-hour mark with Del Potro’s serve under threat. Nadal kept hammering at his backhand and wouldn’t let up. He seemed to have won the point with an insanely cute drop-shot. Equally insanely, Del Potro lunged for a winner which looked impossible, even for him.
As if that wasn’t enough the same game - the very same game - produced the 542nd tumble from Del Potro, Nadal checking on his crumpled opponent. Then Nadal, chasing a hopeless cause, ended up in the front row, in a woman’s lap. He kissed her hand before these charming men resumed their titantic struggle.
The fifth game of the fifth set was its own crazy classic, but then so was the sixth. Still Del Potro wasn’t done. He fought like a lion in the seventh game. This went on for 13 and a half minutes and they may yet end up making a film just about it.
Earlier – it seems like days before – Djokovic beat Kei Nishikori 6-3, 3-6, 6-2, 6-2. It paled into insignificance after one of the all-time, solid-gold mega-matches.