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Tuesday, 11 July 2017 10:07 AM BST
Gilles Muller: Renaissance man
Gilles Muller almost quit in 2013, he's now preparing for a Wimbledon quarter-final READ MORE

Struggling with a serious elbow injury, playing old school tennis and 30 years of age, Gilles Muller was ready to call it quits in 2013.

But six months without tennis and help from one of Andy Murray’s current coaches kickstarted a late-career renaissance that reached a peak with an epic five-set win over two-time champion Rafael Nadal in the fourth round at Wimbledon.

After pulling off the biggest shock of The Championships this year, beating the 15-time Grand Slam winner 15-13 in the final set in a match that lasted close to five hours, Muller called his injury "probably the best thing that ever happened to me."

His time away from the weekly grind on the men’s tour gave his body a chance to heal and get stronger.

"Because I had problems with my elbow, I wasn't able to touch a racket," said Muller, a 34-year-old father of two sons from Luxembourg. "I was able to work out physically, I got myself into the best shape I ever was."

Since his comeback in 2014, Muller has played three full seasons without any breaks. This year, the serve-and-volley specialist won his first two tournaments after 16 years on tour – including a grass court event in the Netherlands - and saw his ranking surge to a career-high No.26 in the world.

"I have a lot of confidence in my body now, which I didn't do before," said Muller.

Coached by former British pro Jamie Delgado, Muller finished 2015 inside the Top 40 for the first time.

Defending champion Murray, who trained alongside Muller in Barcelona when they were both teenagers, was impressed."Gilles was coming back from an injury when they started together, but I’m pretty sure he’s helped get him to his career-high ranking," Murray said in 2015.

When Muller parted ways with his coach in January 2016, Murray was quick to snap up his old friend Delgado for his own team.

Unflappable on the court, where his expression never changed even after missing four match points against Nadal, Muller is a popular character in the men’s locker room.

“So happy for Gilles Muller, one of the nicest guys in the game!! Well done mate,” tweeted British player James Ward.

Nadal goes home to Mallorca in the knowledge he has fallen short on the grass of the All England Club for the fifth year in a row.

Since losing the 2011 final to Novak Djokovic, he hasn’t gone beyond the fourth round and missed The Championships last year with a wrist injury.

Although Nadal has said he is fully healthy, he didn't appear as sharp as usual during his early morning practice with his uncle, Toni Nadal, and Francisco Roig on Court 14 before his clash with Muller.

After winning Roland Garros for a record 10th time last month, Nadal had been cautious about playing on grass, saying much would depend on how his knees would hold up on a surface where the ball bounces much lower.

Losing in the fourth round "was not the result that I was expecting," the Spaniard said. "I play better than other years, true. At the same time I was ready for important things, so I lost an opportunity."

As for Muller, he will face former US Open winner Marin Cilic in what will be the second Grand Slam quarter-final of his career. As a qualifier, Muller reached the same stage at the 2008 US Open, where he lost to eventual champion Roger Federer.

Just like in 2008, Muller will be the underdog against the tall Croat.

"Looks like he's feeling good and playing well, so it's going to be a tough match, for sure,” said Muller, who lost both matches he played against Cilic, including a semi-final at Queen’s Club, shortly before this year’s Wimbledon.

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