RIO DE JANEIRO: What was shaping up as a very long day of Olympic tennis for Rafael Nadal began shortly after 11 a.m., when he played the first point of what would become a victory that put him in the singles quarterfinals.
Then, after a break of less than 2 hours, Nadal went back out on court for a men’s doubles semifinal Thursday and won that, too, assuring himself of leaving the Rio de Janeiro Games with at least one medal for Spain.
Apparently, though, that was enough for the 14-time Grand Slam champion, who pulled out of mixed doubles shortly before he was scheduled to pick up his racket yet again in the evening for a first-round match in that event.
Nadal, the gold medalist in singles eight years ago, missed the 2012 London Olympics with a knee injury and spoke about making up for that in Brazil.
The last-minute decision not to remain in all three draws he was eligible for this time might create questions about how he’s feeling at the moment. But when he’s been on court, Nadal has shown zero lingering effects of an injured left wrist that kept him off tour for 2+ months and forced him to withdraw from the French Open before the third round and skip Wimbledon altogether.
”It’s not been an easy season for me,” Nadal said. ”Two weeks ago, I really didn’t know if I will have the chance to be here and compete in this Olympic Games, because the practice (time) was almost zero for two months.”
After Wednesday’s entire tennis schedule was washed out because of rain, giving Nadal and everyone else a chance to rest, he resumed his pursuit of some hardware by beating 15th-seeded Gilles Simon of France 7-6 (5), 6-3 in singles. That match lasted 2 hours, 2 minutes in the main stadium, and was contested in shifting wind that made it tricky to calibrate shots and repeatedly knocked over courtside signage.
”In the end, he’s still the same,” Simon said. ”He never had three, four bad points in a row.”
Nadal’s next opponent will get plenty of home crowd support: Thomaz Bellucci of Brazil, who advanced by eliminating David Goffin of Belgium 7-6 (10), 6-4.
The other men’s quarterfinals: Andy Murray of Britain vs. Steve Johnson of the United States; Kei Nishikori of Japan vs. Gael Monfils of France; and Robert Bautista Agut of Spain vs. Juan Martin del Potro of Argentina.
The women’s semifinals are Angelique Kerber of Germany against Madison Keys of the U.S., and Petra Kvitova of the Czech Republic against Monica Puig of Puerto Rico. The winners will meet for gold; the losers will meet for bronze.
”It’s obviously a little bit different playing for an Olympic medal, versus a Grand Slam,” said Keys, an Australian Open semifinalist in 2015. ”But they’re both big stages. They’re both big moments.”
A little past 3:30 p.m., Nadal was at Court 3 alongside his good friend Marc Lopez for doubles, and after playing for a minute more than 2 hours, they were lying on top of each other at the baseline, celebrating a 7-6 (1), 7-6 (4) victory over Daniel Nestor and Vasek Pospisil of Canada.
When Nadal sat on the sideline bench, he planted a kiss atop Lopez’s head. Then Nadal appeared to begin crying, and Lopez threw an arm around his shoulders.
”High emotions on court,” Nadal said, ”and a lot of nerves.”
They will wind up with either gold or silver, depending on the outcome of their final against Florin Mergea and Horia Tecau of Romania.
Nadal is trying to become the first player to win gold in singles twice. Also attempting to achieve that: Murray, the defending Olympic champion.
For a stretch of Thursday’s 6-1, 2-6, 6-3 win against the combustible Fabio Fognini of Italy, though, Murray appeared to be headed out of the tournament.
The two-time Wimbledon champion dropped eight consecutive games to lose the second set and trail 3-0 in the third.
”Sometimes your opponent can be playing great. Sometimes you’re playing terrible. Sometimes the conditions don’t allow for you to play really well, and the conditions didn’t allow that today,” Murray said. ”Shadow on the court was making it very hard to pick up the ball and the wind was swirling everywhere.”
The 40th-ranked Fognini, who recently married 2015 US Open champion Flavia Pennetta, acknowledged he got distracted by what he thought was a bad line call while one point from leading 4-1 in the final set.
”I was playing better than him for 1+ sets,” Fognini said. ”And then, unfortunately, there was that call.”
Later, Murray suddenly found himself doing double duty, entering the mixed doubles field with Heather Watson and playing Thursday night after a late withdrawal by another team. Murray and Watson reached the second round, beating Carla Suarez Navarro and David Ferrer 6-3, 6-3.