Rafael Nadal produced a comeback win for the ages, but it was his classy post-match embrace of Juan Martin del Potro that stole the show.
After an epic battle spanning almost five hours, del Potro slumped to the grass following his defeat – and Nadal was quick to climb over the net to console his opponent with a long and exhausted hug.
The thoughtful moment of sportsmanship on show at Wimbledon touched the hearts of viewers from around the world, and it meant a whole lot to del Potro himself.
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“After almost five hours, I fell down. I wanted to stay there for all night long,” del Potro said.
“But Rafa came to me and we made a big hug, and it was kind of him.”
Rafael Nadal resisted the big heart and forehand of Juan Martin del Potro for most of the match in the Wimbledon classic, and admitted it was an emotional match for the two of them.
“Great match, an emotional match for both of us and for the fans, too,” Nadal said.
The hug between Nadal and del Potro at the end of their match was a beautiful moment. That’s how sport should be. Fantastic match to watch as well. #Wimbledon
— PJ Montgomery (@PJMontgomery) July 11, 2018
Meanwhile in the tennis, Nadal and Delpo had a really lovely long hug after their match.
— Jane Hill (@janehill64) July 11, 2018
342 points slogged out between Del Potro and Nadal, without an interval, or a periodic hug. That's where the proper athletes are and the entertainment value. Granted, it's still blokes in shorts chasing a ball, but I stand by my preference #Wimbledon
— Colin Jones (@colin_trpt1) July 11, 2018
That's why Nadal is the GOAT and my favorite player of all time, the sportsmanship to go hug Del Potro after Del Potro fell trying to keep the game alive, is why he is great.
— Wyatt Pate (@wy_pate85) July 11, 2018
The world No.1 should have led by two sets to love but was forced to come from behind before withstanding a supreme effort from his opponent in the fifth.
Eventually Nadal clinched a 7-5 6-7 (7-9) 4-6 6-4 6-4 victory after four hours and 47 minutes.
Nadal, who is now two wins from an 18th grand slam title, held a commanding 6-3 lead in the second-set tiebreak. It was a concern when that slipped away, in part through a double-fault error.
“Of course I was worried when I lost the second set,” he said.
“It’s true that he played two great points with his serve, but that double fault was a big mistake.
“Then the match changed. He played well.
“I believe I increased a little bit the level in the fourth and the fifth. But the fifth, he was playing huge. It was so difficult to stop him.
“I am very happy the way that I survived a lot of important points in that fifth set. I think I did a lot of things well.
“The only negative thing is I played almost five hours and I had the chance maybe to play less winning that second set.
“For the rest of the things, great news, semi-finals of Wimbledon again.
The clash between Del Potro’s thunderous forehand and Nadal’s supreme defensive skills provided tremendous entertainment for the Centre Court fans, who had overwhelmingly chosen tennis over football.
The Argentine dived full length for shots while Nadal chased one forehand so hard he ended up in the crowd.
The end looked nigh when Nadal broke for 3-2 in the decider but he tightened up and del Potro kept hammering his forehand.
Time and again the fifth seed threatened to get back on terms but five break points came and went and somehow Nadal held on.
“I didn’t want to finish the match like that,” Del Potro, who hit 77 winners, said.
“The crowd at the end was amazing. I think I played really good tennis today.
“But Rafa is Rafa. Sometimes you play your best tennis and it’s not enough to beat him.
“But I’m glad with my tournament.
“Physically I’m OK.
“That gives me confidence to keep going in the future.”