A Night To Remember: Nadal Survives Thiem In Classic
Epic. That’s the only way to describe three-time champion Rafael Nadal’s 0-6, 6-4, 7-5, 6-7(4), 7-6(5) US Open quarter-final victory against No. 9 seed Dominic Thiem, a four-hour, 49-minute marathon that ended at 2:04 am Wednesday morning.
“[It was] very demanding in all aspects,” said Nadal. “[I’m] very happy to be in the semi-finals… I lost in Wimbledon a match like this [to Djokovic in July], today was for me... I fought until the end.”
The World No. 1 survived an onslaught of 74 winners from the Austrian to reach the semi-finals in New York for the seventh time, winning his 12th consecutive match at the tournament. Nadal has not lost a quarter-final here since his first appearance in the last eight, in 2006. He clinched his victory with his legs on his first match point, playing terrific defence. Nadal eventually threw up a high lob that Thiem struck long. In the end, Nadal won 165 total points to Thiem's 171.
The 32-year-old, who is the only player to advance to the last eight at all four majors in 2018, defeated Thiem in this year's Roland Garros final to lift his 17th Grand Slam trophy. He is trying to tie John McEnroe for fourth in the Open Era with four US Open triumphs.
And the first step toward doing so will be facing third seed Juan Martin del Potro in a rematch of last year’s semi-finals here in New York, a clash the Spaniard won in four sets. While the Argentine trails the top seed 5-11 in their FedEx ATP Head2Head rivalry, he defeated Nadal in straight sets in the 2009 semi-finals en route to his only Grand Slam title.
“It will be a very tough one,” said Nadal. “He's a great player everywhere. But the challenge of playing him on hard, of course, is even higher for me personally than playing against him on clay, like at Roland Garros… I know he's playing well. I know that I will have to play at my highest level to keep having chances of success. I am focused on trying to make that happen.”
Recovery will be crucial for Nadal, who survived extremely aggressive play by his opponent in a tremendously physical match. The Austrian made it clear from the first point of their clash that he intended to do everything in his power to control rallies, dropping back to take massive cuts at heavy groundstrokes, or courageously stepping in to laser-like winners off both wings.
Tension was high after Thiem escaped a 0/40 hole on his serve at 5-5 in the decider. But it was only fitting that the classic would be decided in a tie-break, as Nadal converted just five of 17 break points in the match.
The newly turned 25-year-old even became the first player since Philipp Kohlschreiber in Miami last year to bagel Nadal in a set. It was just the second time someone has taken a set 6-0 against the World No. 1 in New York, with Andy Roddick doing so en route to a straight-sets victory in 2004. But while Thiem thrilled the crowd, it still was not enough.
In Nadal’s 17th match over four hours at a major championship to Thiem’s first, the Spanish superstar won 165 total points to Thiem’s 171.
“It’s going to be stuck in my mind forever,” said Thiem. “I'm going to remember this match, for sure. Tennis is cruel sometimes, because I think this match didn't really deserve a loser. But there has to be one. And I would say if we skip the first set, [it] was a really open match from the beginning to the end. The way it ended up in the fifth set tiebreaker, there it's 50/50.”
All 10 of the pair's previous FedEx ATP Head2Head meetings (Nadal leads 8-3) had come on clay, and the winner of the first set in each of those clashes had gone on to claim victory in the match. Not in this battle.
Thiem had reached the fourth round in New York in three of his previous four appearances. But this is the first time he made it this far at a major outside of Roland Garros. The 25-year-old was 0-6 at the three other Slams in the fourth round, but he ended that losing streak by ousting 2017 finalist Kevin Anderson on Sunday.
Did You Know?
Nadal is now 21-12 in five-setters during his career, and he is 2-2 in Flushing Meadows.