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By Chris Oddo | Monday July 10, 2017

Rafael Nadal has played better four hour and 48-minute epics.

On Monday the two-time Wimbledon champion was knocked out of the Wimbledon draw by No.16-seeded Gilles Muller, 6-3, 6-4, 3-6, 4-6, 15-13, in the longest match of this year’s tournament on No.1 Court.

More: Federer Cruises Past Dimitrov on Centre Court

In a strange coincidence, the match was played at the exact length of Nadal’s 2008 final victory over Roger Federer, which remains the longest final in Wimbledon history.

Many had begun to feel that the Spaniard might be able to rekindle some of his past Wimbledon magic this year, after winning his 15th major title at Roland Garros and entering this year’s Championships in good health and with positive momentum.

But his title hopes came crashing to a halt on Wimbledon’s manic Monday against a red-hot Muller, a player whose game is seemingly built for Wimbledon’s close-shaven lawns, despite his lack of eye-catching results in his first nine previous appearances here at SW19.

Nadal fell behind early as a result of some loose play that he would later regret, and the deficit eventually proved too difficult to recover from despite an energetic fight for survival that played out over much of the afternoon and early evening. The Spaniard was broken for 4-2 in the opening set and again for 5-4 in the second set while Muller saved all three break points he faced in sets one and two to cruise to a two sets to love lead.

There wasn’t much the Spaniard could have done about the first set, but he had a momentary lapse late in the second that would make his task far more difficul on this day. While Nadal served at 4-4, 30-all in the second set, Muller recorded a lucky net cord winner, the ball dribbling over the net way out of Nadal’s range, for a break point, before the Spaniard flubbed a volley low into the net to hand Muller the break on the next point.

Nadal would head to his chair shaking his head, and Muller would take the balls and serve out the set, forcing a Nadal backhand error with a booming down-the-line forehand winner on his first set point.

Nadal acknowledged after the match that his poor start was a big part of his own undoing on Monday.

“I think I didn't play my best the first two sets,” Nadal said. “I make a couple mistakes that make me then play all the time against the score. And that's so difficult against a player like him.”

Nadal started a turnaround in set three, and he didn’t face a break point in 14 straight games while breaking once in set three and once again in set four to force a decider.

But despite some clutch tennis from Nadal, who saved two match points at 4-5 and another two at 9-10 in the decider, Muller persisted and eventually broke at 13-13, clinching on the fifth point of the game when a Nadal forehand at 15-40 drifted long.

Muller stood at the baseline in shock, peering in the direction of his player’s box, before walking to the net to shake Nadal’s hand.


“I thought on those match points, I didn't do anything wrong,” Muller told reporters after the match. “He served big on a couple of them. I tried to take a big return on his second serve at one match point. I miss-hit it. But I felt like I was doing the right things. It was not easy to keep believing. But on the other hand, I didn't have any regrets. Again, I was playing well.”

Muller saved five break points in the final set, including four at 9-9, and made first serves on all five. In total he faced 16 break points and made first serves on twelve, saving 14.

He held his own all day in baseline rallies with Nadal, winning 36 rallies between five and eight shots, while losing 35. He hit 30 aces and 95 winners, while Nadal hit 23 aces and 77 winners.

In truth, when all was said and done, there was very little between the two.

Nadal hurt his chances by trying to do too much with a backhand from the mid-court on his second break point of the 9-9 game, then missed an easy forehand on his third break chance before Muller aced him down the tee on his fourth. Nadal would not see another opportunity.

“So difficult to come back after being two sets against a player like him,” Nadal conceded. “I think I did well. I had good chances in the fifth. He had chances, too. I am not saying anything could happen. In the fifth, he had more chances than me. So maybe he deserve it a little more than me.”


With the victory Muller is into his second career Grand Slam quarterfinal and first since 2008. The Luxembourgian had never reached the round of 16 at Wimbledon in nine previous appearances.

He will face No.7-seeded Marin Cilic in the quarterfinals. The Croatian blasted past Roberto Bautista Agut on Day 7 to reach his fourth consecutive quarterfinal.

Cilic owns a 2-0 lifetime edge against Cilic.

“I played Marin not too long ago at the Queen's Club in the semifinals,” Muller said. “I lost to him in three tough sets. Obviously he's playing good. He had match points to win that tournament. He's back in the quarterfinals now here again.”

 

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