After Rafael Nadal’s withdrawal from Wimbledon on the eve of the men’s semi-finals, let’s try to imagine the most extreme polarities of reaction to the news.
On the one hand, there is his opponent, Nick Kyrgios, who wins by default. He skips the hard part and qualifies for his first Grand Slam final without doing anything.
Kyrgios is a wild card at the best of times, but he’s never had the chance to work that magic in a truly high-stakes one-and-done. Who knows what he could manage now? He must feel touched by the angels.
Then there’s Taylor Fritz. The American lost to Nadal in five sets in Wednesday’s quarter-final. Nadal winced his way through much of that match, afflicted by muscle pain in his abdomen (which he now says is a tear).
Nadal left the court for extended medical treatment. From the player’s box, his father and sister urged him to quit. But he played on and Fritz folded up like a lawn chair.
You can’t blame Nadal for trying. That’s what he’s trained to do. But he’s been doing this a long time. He’s been through a million injuries. He must instinctively know the difference between a niggle and something more serious.
You can’t blame him, but when you think of it from Fritz’s perspective, what was the point in continuing if you didn’t feel pretty sure you could play two more afterward?
Nadal said as much on Thursday while announcing his withdrawal: “I made my decision because I believe that I can’t win two matches under these circumstances.”
If you’re too badly hurt to play, that’s one thing. But if you’re just badly enough hurt that you don’t want to bother without being guaranteed a good chance of winning a title, that’s another. Nadal’s explanation leaves some room for doubt.
So while none of this is his fault, you can still wish he’d handled it differently.
In a more understanding world, Wimbledon organizers could walk back Wednesday’s result and give Fritz his shot. Let Nadal have the semi-final money and let Fritz choose the semi-final chance, or something.
But it doesn’t work like that. The loser in all this is the average fan, who gets no tennis instead of good tennis (Kyrgios vs. Fritz), great tennis (Kyrgios vs. Nadal) or epic tennis (Kyrgios vs. the chair umpire).
If Kyrgios feels lucky, Novak Djokovic must feel like someone’s thrown his season a life preserver.
Forty-eight hours or so before Nadal’s announcement, the Serb was down two sets to none against Jannik Sinner in their quarter-final. In that moment, Djokovic’s year looked like a total washout.
He’d missed Australia, been banned from the U.S. Open, run over by Nadal at the French and was about to be tripped up by a kid at Wimbledon. It would have been the worst healthy year of Djokovic’s career.
Now he’s got a clear path to the title. With apologies to his semi-final opponent, Britain’s Cam Norrie, that match on Friday could be over 15 minutes before it starts. All Djokovic has to do is give him the eye as they wait to come out onto the court.
If Djokovic wins here, some observers will say he got lucky. That he didn’t have to face the best player in the game. Others may even say that Nadal dropped out because he didn’t want to face a full-strength Djokovic when he wasn’t feeling the same way himself. That way the Spaniard may still get to say he was perfect in the majors he chose.
It’s a good bar argument. Would have been a lot more fun as a tennis match.