Late in his career and late in the day — the shadows long on the courts of Wimbledon — the tireless Gilles Muller finally got what he wanted.
An early exit for Rafael Nadal.
In a fourth-round match Monday that had the tennis world hanging on every point, Muller stubbornly outlasted one of the best players in the game, winning a 6-3, 6-4, 3-6, 4-6, 15-13 marathon.
There was a peculiar synchronicity to the 4-hour 48-minute odyssey. First, that was exactly as long as Nadal’s previous longest match at Wimbledon, when he beat Roger Federer in the 2008 final.
But the final set Monday lasted 2:15, the average length of a men’s match in this year’s tournament.
Muller-Nadal lasted so long that the match that was scheduled to follow, second-seeded Novak Djokovic versus Adrian Mannarino, had to be postponed until Tuesday because of the dying daylight.
“I just felt like what I was doing was the right way, just had to be patient,” said Luxembourg’s Muller, 34, who might as well have been speaking about his entire career. He will play Croatia’s Marin Cilic on Wednesday.
It was the second time Muller advanced to a Grand Slam event quarterfinal, the first coming in the 2008 U.S. Open.
“To be honest, I haven't really realized what just happened,” he said. “It's a great feeling. ... I'm just glad it's over and I'm in the quarterfinals now.”
Spain’s Nadal had returned to form after sitting out Wimbledon a year ago because of a wrist injury. He was coming off his record 10th French Open championship, and oddsmakers had him just behind Federer as the favorite to win Wimbledon.
“I put everything on the court,” said Nadal, a crowd favorite who seemed to strain to keep his composure in the immediate aftermath of the match, yet stuck around to sign autographs for spectators before walking off the court. “I played with all my passion. ... Sorry for the crowd that were supporting me, but was great feeling the support of all of them.”
By comparison, Federer had a ho-hum day. The seven-time Wimbledon winner beat Bulgaria’s Grigor Dimitrov 6-4, 6-2, 6-4, meaning the Swiss star has yet to lose a set in this year’s tournament.
“I've had, you know, not the toughest matches,” said Federer, who will play Canada’s Milos Raonic in the next round. “I can look at this quarterfinal in a totally relaxed fashion. Physically I'm not fighting anything like last year with my knee. I'm ready to go this afternoon if I have to, which is great, but I don't have to.”
On the women’s side, Americans Venus Williams and Coco Vandeweghe advanced to the quarterfinals. Both won in straight sets.
“Winning never gets old at any stage of your career. Ever,” said Williams, 37, who won Wimbledon five times between 2001 and 2008, and advanced to the semifinals a year ago. She made light work Monday of Croatia’s Ana Konjuh, winning 6-3, 6-2. Williams will play Latvia’s Jelena Ostapenko on Tuesday.
The tournament’s only remaining American man is Californian Sam Querrey, a Thousand Oaks High graduate. He’s 6 feet 6, has a hard serve and an easy smile, and is perfectly happy operating in the shadows of the Fab Four of Federer, Djokovic, Nadal and British hero Andy Murray.
But now Querrey is right there with them. In the quarterfinals. Quietly.
“I mean, it's nice,” said Querrey, 29, after a grind-it-out win over South Africa’s Kevin Anderson. “I just kind of quietly go through the draw on the outside courts. I'm pretty happy with it. But if you're going to win a Grand Slam, you're going to have to go through at least one of those guys, probably more.”
A year after a career-milestone win, toppling the heavily favored Djokovic in the third round, Querrey has a chance to send an even bigger shockwave through this iconic tournament. He plays Murray, the defending champion and national obsession, in a Wednesday quarterfinal.
“Sometimes it's fun to go out there and play where the crowd is behind the other player 100%,” Querrey said. “I'm going to try to play aggressive, hopefully play well, and sneak out a win.”
At Wimbledon, anything can happen. After nearly five exhausting hours, Nadal can sadly second that.