Marathon bug strikes but Nadal struggles home

World No 1 taken to five sets again but passes test set by determined Petzschner

This five-set malarkey is obviously catching. For the second successive match, Rafael Nadal had to go the distance at these Championships, on this occasion needing timely medical interventions and his opponent Philipp Petzschner's weariness to see off the very real threat of expulsion.

The Spanish world No 1 did eventually battle through, 6-4 4-6 6-7 6-2 6-3, to remain the man to topple in the lower half of the draw, but Petzschner pushed him hard, and would have grounds for feeling aggrieved at the way things panned out.

The 26-year-old had already played two five-set matches to reach the third round, something that eventually took its toll. But the match had begun to swing back in Nadal's favour before fatigue set in for Petzschner, with the German ahead by two sets to one. The fourth set went with serve, 2-1 in Nadal's favour, but with the momentum all Petzschner's, when Nadal called the trainer, who massaged his thigh for several minutes.

As play resumed and with Nadal apparently untroubled by any physical ailment, he immediately broke Petzschner for 3-1, held for 4-1, called the medic again, then took the set 6-2 having broken Petzschner to love.

By the deciding set, it was the German who needed treatment, just before the set started. He was clearly suffering and Nadal's key break in the eighth game for 5-3 arrived as Petzschner was starting to struggle with his movement.

Nadal, who was warned by the umpire in the fifth set for receiving coaching from the sidelines from his uncle, Toni, then held for the match. He now faces Paul-Henri Mathieu, who beat Thiemo de Bakker of Holland. De Bakker had previously beaten John Isner, whose own five-setter at these Championships will go down in the game's lore.

"Petzschner's serve was excellent," said Nadal. "I changed my strategy in the fourth set and returned the serve from outside the baseline. I wasn't able to return as I liked from inside. In the end I think I played well." Of his physical ailments he added: "It will be fine. I've played a lot of tennis this season but I will be fine by Monday I think. I'm happy to be in the fourth round."

Petzschner might well have pulled off the shock of the tournament but for the broken momentum. He has never been beyond the third round in a Grand Slam but he deserved his lead.

He was also playing well above his own standard when facing an elite player. He had never faced any world No 1 before but had a 2-7 record against top 10 players in his career, those victories coming against the then No 10 Stan Wawrinka in 2008 in Vienna, and against the then No 8 Fernando Verdasco at Halle last year.

His best grass court performance to date was reaching the semi-finals at Halle this year, when he lost to Roger Federer, and his current ranking of No 41 is not far outside his career high of No 35, from September last year.

Among the crowd on Centre Court – although not for the duration – was Alastair Campbell, the former Labour Party spin doctor. Quite probably he and many others had been hoping for a swift Rafa rout of Petzschner as a prelude to Andy Murray's match with Gilles Simon. But Petzschner, clearly intent on making it a big sporting weekend for Germany, served superbly and took his rare chances to secure the lead after three sets.

There was just one break of serve in the first set, in the first game of the match when Petzschner netted a volley and hit wide to hand Nadal the game. There was also just one break in the second set, this one impres-sively earned to love by Petzschner on Nadal's serve. The break was sealed with a volley at the net.

In the third set, the match looked to be drifting away from Nadal when Petzschner won the tie-break, recovering from a mini-break down to take the tie-breaker 7-5. Nadal was not playing badly, just inconsistently and with only flashes of his brutal power. With the treatment he was revitalised; and Petzschner nobbled, mentally as well as physically.