Nobody who faces Rafael Nadal these days needs any softening up before the Spaniard is let loose to do his worst. But in an epic quarter-final that concluded here last night, Rainer Schüttler and Arnaud Clément beat the living daylights out of each other, and surely out of their stamina reserves as well before Germany's Schüttler emerged a five-set winner. He faces Nadal in the semis this afternoon.
Bad light had halted their match on Wednesday at one set apiece. By the time they trudged off court yesterday, they had traded multiple long rallies and umpteen breaks of serve in three more marathon sets. The final score read 6-3, 5-7, 7-6, 6-7, 8-6. The duration of the match, at five hours and 12 minutes, made it the joint second-longest in the history of the singles at the All England Club.
The longest was Greg Holmes' victory over Todd Witsken in five hours and 28 minutes in the second round in 1989. Yesterday's marathon was the same duration as Pancho Gonzales versus Charlie Pasarell in 1969 in the first round. Schüttler is contesting his 10th Wimbledon. He had never previously made it beyond the last 16, and with injuries hampering his career, he was knocked out in the first round on his last two visits. He had intended to be spending this week at a Challenger event in Cordoba.
"It could have gone both ways, I'm just happy to have made it through," said the 32-year-old lof his win. "It's definitely one of the matches I will always remember." Schüttler agreed that Nadal would have an advantage having completed his own last match on Wednesday but added: "He's pretty fit anyway, but I don't really care. I also work hard. I'm physically fit. I will get a massage and try to sleep early if possible to get enough hours of sleep. I'll be fine for the match." For the second year in succession Nadal will be facing a semi-final opponent potentially weakened by a marathon quarter-final. Twelve months ago, Novak Djokovic retired in the third set of his semi against the Spaniard exhausted by his five-hour quarter-final with Marcos Baghdatis.
In 2004 Clément featured in the longest match in Grand Slam history when he lost 16-14 in the final set to Fabrice Santoro in the first round of the French Open. The match lasted six hours and 33 minutes.
Yesterday the Frenchman, 30, incredibly saved six successive set points after falling 6-0 down in the third-set tie-breaker before losing it with a double fault, but he came back to claim the fourth set. Schüttler's biggest moment in singles to date was reaching the Australian Open final, beating Richard Krajicek, Marat Safin, James Blake, David Nalbandian and Andy Roddick on his way to a meeting with Andre Agassi, which he lost.
Schüttler joins Boris Becker and Michael Stich as the only German Wimbledon semi-finalists in the Open era. "I grew up watching Boris win Wimbledon so now I'm in the semis. I'm more than happy," he said.