Rafael Nadal will face Rainer Schuettler in Friday’s semi-finals after getting his wish to avoid the worst that the Wimbledon weather could throw at him.
Twelve months ago, Nadal’s third-round match with Robin Soderling stretched over five days, starting on the last Saturday in June and finishing on Wednesday, July 4.
The Spanish star was forced to play five matches in five days to reach his second consecutive final, eventually losing in five sets to defending champion Roger Federer in an epic confrontation.
“I was unlucky to be on the wrong side of the draw last year, this time I hope the weather is good,” Nadal said before the start of the championships.
This time the world number two’s progress has been more comfortable thanks to a largely rain-free tournament, but Schuettler was not so lucky in his quarter-final against Arnaud Clement.
Play started late on Wednesday afternoon on Court One and the match was poised at one set all when it was called off for the day around 9pm.
Resuming at 1pm on Thursday, two more rain delays followed before Schuettler eventually sealed a 6-3 5-7 7-6 6-7 8-6 victory in five hours and 12 minutes, the joint second-longest match in Wimbledon history.
Nadal, fresh from thrashing Britain’s Andy Murray in straight sets in the quarter-finals, is a massive favourite to win and set up a third straight final with Federer – who faces Marat Safin in the other semi – but insisted he was not looking ahead.
Schuettler lost in the first round here in 2005 and 2006, was ranked too low for direct entry last year and did not attempt to qualify.
The 32-year-old, currently ranked 94th in the world, is also 10 years older than Nadal and expected to be playing a Challenger tournament in Cordoba, Argentina by now.
But Nadal insisted: “I’m going to have a difficult match against Schuettler because he is playing well. If he is the semi-finals, it is because he is playing very well. I don’t want to think about the final. Not yet.
“I have to play very well if I want to win this tournament. I am playing well, but I don’t know if it is enough. I hope so.”
Fortunately for Schuettler, his match was scheduled to be second on court after Federer against Safin, and with more rain forecast, the former Australian Open finalist could get even longer to recover from his exertions.
Safin himself has written off his chances of causing an upset, and it was easy to see why the way Federer breezed past Mario Ancic in the quarter-finals.
Seeking a record sixth straight title, Federer has yet to drop a set and has extended his winning run on grass to 64 matches since losing to Ancic in the first round here in 2002.
The 26-year-old also holds an 8-2 win-loss record against Safin, including a straight-sets victory in the third round at Wimbledon last year.
“It should be interesting because last year I wasn’t happy to see Safin in my draw. I’m never happy,” Federer admitted. “He probably knows that.
“He’s just been disappointed with the way he’s been playing lately, but hopefully he’s got a second thing going here in his career. I’m looking forward to playing him.”