German tennis player Rainer Schuettler is as surprised as anyone to be preparing for a Wimbledon semi-final against Rafael Nadal on Friday, July 4.
Rainier Schuettler fought through a marathon match to set up a semi-final against Rafa Nadal
The 32-year-old had a few relaxing days in the Swiss Alps planned for the end of this week. Instead, he will become the first German to reach this stage of the tennis championships since Michael Stich in 1997 when he steps out onto Center Court to face the Spanish tyro on Friday.
Schuettler already had to duck out of an event in Spain when he realized he would be playing in the second week of Wimbledon and he has now also had to delay his vacation plans.
"I said I would go to the mountains in Switzerland for a few days, spend some time there, just get away from everything because I'm playing next week in Stuttgart on clay," the 94th-ranked German told a news conference. "But, yeah, I'm still here, so it feels good."
Schuettler has already added his name to the record books this week by playing in the second longest match in Wimbledon history. His grueling five-set, quarter-final encounter against Frenchman Arnaud Clement took five hours and 12 minutes to complete. It began on Wednesday evening and eventually ended with Schuettler's tie-break match point on Thursday.
Now the German, a former world number five, has to face the muscular threat of the second ranked player in the world for a place in the final.
Germany versus Spain: Part 2
Clement, right, didn't have a beard when the match started
Schuettler, the oldest man left in the tournament, could be excused for feeling tired and in awe of the Spaniard, given Nadal's devastating form and the fact that the second seed has had an extra day's rest.
But Schuettler, whose previous best Grand Slam performance was reaching the final of the 2003 Australian Open, insisted he was not too exhausted by his quarter-final efforts.
"Obviously (Nadal) has an advantage, but I will be okay. I'm not so tired," he said after his 6-3 5-7 7-6 6-7 8-6 win over Clement. "He's incredibly fit. But I don't care. I work hard and am also very fit.
"I have nothing to lose. I'll just go out there, have fun, try to make it as hard for him as possible, and then who knows," he said. "I mean, (against Clement) I was out of the tournament already, then I won it. Who knows what's going to happen (against Nadal)."
The semi-final clash will pit Germany against Spain for the second time in a week, with the two national soccer teams coming up against each other in Sunday's Euro 2008 final. Schuettler will hope to perform a bit better than Michael Ballack & Co. who lost 1-0.
Schuettler enters unknown territory at Wimbledon
Schuettler has been the surprise of the men's tournament
The German, who put out American ninth seed James Blake in the second round, had never got beyond the fourth round in his nine previous visits to the All England Club.
His route to the quarter-finals was made that much easier by the elimination of fourth seed Nikolay Davydenko and Andy Roddick, the sixth seed, who were both knocked out early in his part of the draw.
Another by-product of Schuettler's advance to the latter stages of Wimbledon is the rekindled yearning in Germany for the glory days when seven times ladies champ Steffi Graf and three time winner of the men's singles Boris Becker ruled the courts.
There was a time when no Grand Slam tournament was safe from the big serve of Boris and the nifty footwork of the super-agile Steffi. Wimbledon was almost a second home for these two.
Germany 's golden era a distant memory
Germany's past Wimbledon winners Becker and Graf
But it has been over 17 years since a German faced the final hurdle in the men's singles tournament at the All England Club and that was the double-header between Michael Stich and Becker. The last German appearance in a final at Wimbledon was Graf's defeat to Lindsay Davenport in 1999.
Those who wish to reminisce about the era in which Germany was a tennis superpower would be hard pushed to find a more worthy memory than the moment a 17-year-old Boris took the crown at Wimbledon in 1985.
Solace in recent German failures may be gained from reviewing the staggering number of titles Graf took during her career. If you're looking for comfort to see you through these barren times, Mrs. Agassi won 22 Grand Slam championships and numerous others of the Woman's Tour circuit.
Failing that, someone must have a video of the 1991 Wimbledon Championships where Stich beat Jim Courier, defending champion Stefan Edberg and three-time winner Boris Becker in consecutive rounds to lift the All England Club's golden cup.
Maybe, come Sunday evening, there will be another German victory at Wimbledon to store away for when the wilderness years return.