LONDON: Embodying the spirit of the term ‘Wimbledon white’ – not just a colour, but an ideal, tradition and history confirms – the great Spaniard Rafael Nadal, defeated by 16th seed Gilles Muller of Luxembourg in the fourth round of Wimbledon-2017, cut the perfect example of being gracious in defeat.
After losing a five-set epic spanning nearly five hours to the 34-year-old Muller 6-3, 6-4, 3-6, 4-6, 15-13, it would have been perfectly acceptable had Nadal – winner at the All England Club in 2008 and 2010 – waved a weary hand to the gallery and headed straight inside the changing room. Instead, he stood court side with his kit over his shoulder, waiting for Muller to gather his belongings and soak in the feeling of a career-defining victory, so that he could accompany his opponent inside. Not just that – Nadal even took time to sign a few autographs before he exited.
Tellingly, there are were more fans inside on Monday seeking the vanquished Spaniard’s autograph than there were for the winner, Muller. And there stood Nadal, no doubt physically and mentally drained after that dramatic, exhilarating defeat, smiling and obliging spectators. It was a telling moment of the champion’s pedigree. His reaction to defeat brought a stunning reaction from the crowd assembled at Court One.
Not long afterwards, the 15-time Grand Slam winner fronted up to the media and vowed to return in 2018. “I never said I am not going to come back. I want to come back because I want to play more times in the Centre Court,” said Nadal, who arrived in London fresh from a record-setting 10th French Open title with aspirations of winning Wimbledon for a third time. “Great feeling. Great atmosphere. I put everything on the court. I played with all my passion. The crowd normally appreciate that. Sorry for the crowd that were supporting me.”
The World No 2 converted just two of 16 break points, while Muller fired 30 aces and 95 winners. In the final set, which spanned 95 minutes, Nadal saved two match points in the 10th game and two more in the 20th. In the midst of all this, Muller had to fight off a break point in the 13th game and four more in the 19th.
“I lost in the fourth round. That’s not the result that I was expecting,” said Nadal. “It’s true that I played some good matches, but the same time is true that I didn’t want to lose that match. So it is tough to analyse that in a positive way right now. I played better than other years, true. At the same time I was ready for important things, so I lost an opportunity.”