|Rafael Nadal in action against Mikhail Youzhny on Thursday. The Spaniard won 4-6, 3-6, 6-1, 6-2, 6-2. (AFP)
Rafael Nadal produced a brilliant fightback from two sets down to defeat Mikhail Youzhny in the fourth round in Wimbledon on Thursday.
Playing on a fourth consecutive day and facing defeat, Nadal suddenly lifted his game to dominate each of the final three sets and win 4-6, 3-6, 6-1, 6-2, 6-2.
“I have never played so well on grass,” said the second seed.
The Spaniard was playing magnificently by the end, but was perhaps helped when Youzhny struggled midway through their match with pain in his lower back.
He called for a trainer after losing the third set and, lying on his stomach, the Russian had his lower back massaged. After the fifth game of the fourth set, he was again on the ground with the trainer stretching his back.
Nadal is trying to become the first man to win the French Open and Wimbledon in the same year since Bjorn Borg in 1980.
In the quarter finals, he will face the No. 7 seed Tomas Berdych, who beat Jonas Bjorkman 6-4, 6-0, 6-7, 6-0.
Novak Djokovic shrugged off a sore back to squeeze past former champion Lleyton Hewitt 7-6, 7-6, 4-6, 7-6 and reach the quarter finals for the first time.
In a tussle lasting more than four hours and full of gruelling rallies, lunging reaches and tossed rackets, Djokovic eventually broke the dogged resilience of Hewitt.
The Australian 16th seed’s exit, his first before the quarter final here since 2003, means that world No. 1 Roger Federer is the only former champion left in the men’s draw.
Djokovic will next face Marcos Baghdatis, the No. 10 seed who lost to Nadal in last year’s semi-finals. The Cypriot advanced to the last eight by beating No. 6 seed Nikolay Davydenko 7-6, 7-6, 6-3.
Play was suspended for the day with four-time defending champion Roger Federer and No. 20 Juan Carlos Ferrero still in the first set of their quarter final. Federer was serving at deuce at 5-5.
Number three Andy Roddick and No. 12 Richard Gasquet took the court to warm up but never started.
Earlier, Venus Williams took another step towards a fourth Wimbledon title with a hard-fought victory over Svetlana Kuznetsova in the quarter finals.
“Centre Court has just been good to Williams in the last seven years or so,” the three-time former champion told reporters. “So it’s a good thing if your last name’s Williams here.”
Fresh from her brilliant performance against second seed Maria Sharapova on Wednesday, Venus battled to a 6-3, 6-4 win to seal a semi-final against French Open losing finalist Ana Ivanovic.
The Serbian saved three match points before overcoming fellow-teenager Nicole Vaidisova 4-6, 6-2, 7-5 to reach her first Wimbledon semi-final. “I still probably haven’t realised what happened,” sixth seed Ivanovic said. “It was an unbelievable match. To win like this was amazing.”
Facing defeat in the ninth game of the third set, Ivanovic saved three match points on her serve to get herself back into the match and then broke to turn the tables on her opponent. A double fault by 18-year-old Vaidisova handed Ivanovic the match after two hours on the court.
An 11am start perhaps explained a sluggish start from Venus, who had not faced a single break point against Sharapova, but had to save two in the opening game of Thursday’s match.
She then took advantage of a poor approach shot from Kuznetsova to send a forehand winner down the line for the only break, serving out comfortably to take the set 6-3 after 30 minutes.
Kuznetsova had won the last two meetings between the pair, coincidentally both in the quarter finals in Warsaw, but was quickly in trouble in the second set.
The fifth seed saved seven break points in an epic opening game, but then surrendered her serve in the fifth game to seemingly put Venus in total control.
However, a lapse in concentration from Venus allowed Kuznetsova to break straight back, only for a third consecutive break of serve to give the 23rd seed another chance to close out the match.
For once betraying nerves, Venus squandered three match points to fall break point down. But eventually the 27-year-old held her nerve to win. She could now have to play on four consecutive days if she is to lift the title on Saturday, but would have no complaints.
“That’s okay, because if I have a day off it would mean I’m out of the tournament,” she joked.