Rafael Nadal will face Novak Djokovic in a mouthwatering Wimbledon semi-final after beating Juan Martin del Potro in a Centre Court classic.
Nadal was a set away from crashing out only a matter of hours after defending champion and favourite Roger Federer had suffered a stunning defeat against Kevin Anderson.
The 17-time grand slam champion was not to be denied a place in the last four, though, coming through a monumental battle with the fifth seed to win 7-5 6-7 (7-9) 4-6 6-4 6-4 in four hours and 47 minutes.
Nadal had not lost a set prior to his first quarter-final at the All England Club since 2011, but was taken the distance in an epic encounter between two warriors of the game.
The second seed, eyeing a third Wimbledon title, with his last triumph at SW19 coming eight years ago, struck 66 winners compared to 77 from Del Potro, who fired down 33 aces in a contest that ebbed and flowed throughout.
Del Potro suffered more heartbreak after losing to Nadal in the semi-finals at Roland Garros last month, his 52 unforced errors proving to be costly as the Spaniard claimed the only break in a pulsating final set.
The victor and the vanquished. Sportsmanship at its finest.— Wimbledon (@Wimbledon) July 11, 2018
After four hours and 47 minutes of pure theatre, @RafaelNadal shares a touching embrace with Juan Martin del Potro #Wimbledon pic.twitter.com/TykAQAPReH
Nadal worked the angles and moved superbly from the start, but the heavy-hitting Del Potro frustrated him by saving the first two break-point opportunities of the match before holding to level at 4-4.
However, Del Potro was made to pay for a sloppy game when he was serving to secure a tie-break, netting a backhand to go a set down.
Nadal lost only eight points behind his serve in the opening set, but Del Potro needed only one break point to take a 5-4 lead in the second. He squandered the chance to serve out the set and that looked to be costly when he trailed 4-1 in the breaker, but his rival double-faulted on one of four set points as the nerves set in.
Neither player gave anything away on serve in a tight third set, but an errant Nadal backhand gave the Argentinian three set points. He only needed one, though, breaking to love with a ferocious forehand.
A sprightly Nadal went on the front foot to turn the tide in the fourth, Del Potro twice hitting the deck as he was broken to love to trail 3-2 and while he saved two set points behind his powerful serve, the 11-time French Open champion was jumping for joy after a searing backhand winner made sure the match would go all the way.
The crowd were on their feet when Del Potro took off to end a magnificent point with a diving volley in a marathon third game, yet Nadal got the break with a sublime cross-court winner in the next service game.
Nadal saved three break points before an imperious forehand winner put him 5-3 up and he put away a simple volley to finally finish off Del Potro, then made his way around the net to embrace his weary opponent as he lay on the court following another tumble.
Nadal  bt del Potro  7-5 6-7 (7-9) 4-6 6-4 6-4
Nadal - 66/34
Del Potro - 77/52
Nadal - 3/5
Del Potro - 33/7
BREAK POINTS WON
Nadal - 4/10
Del Potro - 2/7
FIRST SERVE PERCENTAGE
Nadal - 70
Del Potro - 63
PERCENTAGE OF POINTS WON ON FIRST/SECOND SERVE
Nadal - 74/62
Del Potro - 77/45
Nadal - 176
Del Potro - 164
15. November 2018
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