Wimbledon: Nadal rues missed opportunity after being edged out in thriller
Rafael Nadal called his epic five-set defeat by Gilles Muller a "lost opportunity". The two-time Wimbledon champion clearly had his eyes on a third title despite his recent early exits from the Championships.
But Muller stunned the Spaniard, and a disbelieving Court One, by triumphing 15-13 in a marathon fifth set which lasted two and a quarter hours.
"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 at the same time it's true that I didn't want to lose that match.
"So it is tough to analyse that in a positive way right now.
"I won matches. I played better than other years, true. At the same time I was ready for important things, so I lost an opportunity."
Muller, the 16th seed from Luxembourg, was the first player to beat a raw Nadal at Wimbledon back in 2005.
As well as completing a personal double, he added his name to those of Lukas Rosol, Steve Darcis, Nick Kyrgios and Dustin Brown in sending Nadal home early over the last six years.
The French Open champion had not dropped any of his last 28 sets in Grand Slams, but Muller took the first two off him.
Nadal drew on all his experience to draw level, only to find himself facing two match points at 4-5 in the decider against an equally resolute opponent.
Two big first serves, and two aces, averted that particular crisis but Muller was still serving the better of the two.
That was until the 18th game of a marathon final set when, having got to deuce, Nadal chiselled out four break points.
A Muller double fault on the fourth, correctly overruled by umpire Ali Nili, served to ramp up the tension yet further as the underdog held.
Nadal saved two match points in the next, and when he came out to serve for the 22nd game he complained to Nili about the reflection of part of the Court One stand - prompting the unusual sight of the umpire asking spectators to stand in front of it.
Still the players battled on until the 28th game of a gruelling, but absorbing contest when Muller eked out a fifth match point.
Nadal put a forehand long and found himself heading for the exit, on the wrong end of an incredible 6-3 6-4 3-6 4-6 15-13 scoreline.
Muller, who faces Croatia's Marin Cilic in the quarter-finals, said: "I just tried to hang in there.
"Rafa stepped it up in the third and the fourth sets. Then I told myself, 'Just hang in there and you're going to get your chances'.
"I got a few of them - I didn't take the first ones. But I still kept believing and somehow in the end I made it. It's definitely my biggest win, I would say."
Meanwhile, the decision to postpone Novak Djokovic's quarter-final against Adrian Mannarino was made on safety grounds, Wimbledon announced.
Djokovic and Mannarino must play the entirety of their clash today after Muller's epic win over Nadal meant only two matches were possible on Court One yesterday.
Centre Court was free from 6.50pm when Roger Federer finished his victory over Grigor Dimitrov but the All England Club decided not to move the match.
In a statement, Wimbledon said: "The safety and security of all visitors to the Championships is of paramount importance. The preference was to play the Djokovic v Mannarino match as scheduled on No.1 Court.
"When that was no longer an option, it was determined the match could not be moved to Centre Court due to the number of spectators remaining in the grounds.
"As late as 8.30pm, 30,000 people still remained in the grounds, and therefore moving the match would have created a significant safety issue.
"Both players were explained the rationale of postponing the match until tomorrow, which is now scheduled for a 12pm start on Centre Court."
The contest between Djokovic and Mannarino was the only last-16 singles match not to be played yesterday. The winner will go through to face Czech Tomas Berdych in the quarter-finals tomorrow.
Independent News Service