Wimbledon: Rafael Nadal felt something "crush" in his left foot, and the intense pain immediately made him worry that it might be broken.
And then, as he limped along between first-set points in the fourth round at Wimbledon, came an idea just as scary to contemplate: What if he needed to quit?
"I thought I wouldn`t be able to continue playing," the defending champion and top-seeded Nadal said Monday night. "That`s the truth. I`m not lying."
After pulling out a 7-6 (6), 3-6, 7-6 (4), 6-4 victory over 2009 US Open champion Juan Martin del Potro, Nadal said he would get an MRI exam on the foot and couldn`t be 100 percent sure how fit he`ll be for his quarterfinal Wednesday against 10th-seeded Mardy Fish of the United States.
"I`m worried, for sure. I`m going to do the MRI. We`ll see what`s going on. Tomorrow, we will see," Nadal said. "I cannot predict the future."
By getting past del Potro, Nadal improved to 30-2 at Wimbledon since the start of the 2006 tournament. He`s joined in the quarterfinals by the rest of the top four seeded men: No. 2 Novak Djokovic, No. 3 Roger Federer and No. 4 Andy Murray.
"We`ve all been playing well, I think the top four or five guys really, for a long time," said Federer, a six-time champion at Wimbledon. "I think it`s exciting for tennis."
He dropped a set for the first time in his four matches at Wimbledon this year before coming back to beat 18th-seeded Mikhail Youzhny of Russia 6-7 (5), 6-3, 6-3, 6-3 and reach the quarterfinals at a record 29th consecutive Grand Slam tournament.
Federer, now 11-0 against Youzhny, compiled 54 winners — including 14 aces — and broke six times.
Two-time Australian Open champion Djokovic kept up his bid for a first Wimbledon title by beating Michael Llodra of France 6-3, 6-3, 6-3. Djokovic can replace Nadal at No. 1 in the rankings by reaching Sunday`s final.
Murray, meanwhile, breezed past No. 17 Richard Gasquet of France 7-6 (3), 6-3, 6-2 — then took a deep bow to the Royal Box, where Prince William and bride Kate joined the rest of the crowd in giving Britain`s top player a standing ovation.
Murray is hoping to become the first British man to win the title at the All England Club since Fred Perry in 1936. After Monday`s victory, Murray met with the royal couple, then sheepishly apologized to them for his appearance.
"If I`d known they were coming, I would have shaved," the Scot said with a smile. "I was thinking to myself as I came off I was sweaty and very hairy. I said to them, `I`m sorry, I`m a bit sweaty.` But it was really nice."
In addition to Nadal-Fish, the quarterfinals will be Djokovic vs. 18-year-old qualifier Bernard Tomic of Australia, who beat Xavier Malisse of Belgium 6-1, 7-5, 6-4 to become the youngest man to make it this far at Wimbledon since Boris Becker won a second consecutive championship in 1986; Federer vs. No. 12 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga of France; and Murray vs. unseeded Feliciano Lopez of Spain.
Tsonga got past No. 7 David Ferrer of Spain 6-3, 6-4, 7-6 (1), while Lopez came back from two sets down to eliminate Lukasz Kubot of Poland 3-6, 6-7 (5), 7-6 (7), 7-5, 7-5.
In the day`s most dramatic match, Nadal`s foot began hurting during the first set, particularly when he moved to his left to hit defensive forehands. He was visited twice by a trainer, including right before the tiebreaker, when his foot was taped up, which helped alleviate the problem a bit.
Still, Nadal fell behind 3-0 in the tiebreaker, favoring his left foot during points and stepping gingerly after them. Up in his guest box, Toni Nadal — Rafael`s uncle and coach — was gnawing on his finger nails.
Aided by mistakes from del Potro, Nadal won four consecutive points to go ahead 4-3, but then fell behind 6-5. Nadal saved that set point with a service winner, ended a 20-stroke exchange with a backhand that landed right on the baseline, and took the set when del Potro double-faulted.
Del Potro — who missed most of 2010 after right wrist surgery — won the second set, but then he tumbled to the turf early in the third, clutching at his left hip. He left to get checked by a trainer, but continued.
Despite both players` health issues, they provided some scintillating tennis. Del Potro pressured Nadal with his powerful forehand and strong serve, often attacking the net. Nadal countered with a series of spectacular passing shots.
After Nadal served out the match at love, the crowd gave both players a lengthy standing ovation.
"I will try my best," Nadal said, "to be very competitive on Wednesday."