New York City, USA : Defending champion Rafael Nadal downed battling ninth seed Dominic Thiem 0-6, 6-4, 7-5, 6-7 (4/7), 7-6 (7/5) to reach the semi-finals of the U.S. Open for the seventh time. In a gripping 4-hour 49-minute contest, which concluded at 2.04 a.m. on Wednesday, world number one Nadal won through to keep his bid for a fourth title in New York and 18th Grand Slam crown on track.
It was the longest match of the 69 that Nadal has played at the U.S. Open. Nadal had also played the second longest match of this year’s tournament: his four-set win over Karen Khachanov in the third round, which lasted four hours and 23 minutes.
Nadal has played a total of 15 hours and 54 minutes through five matches here.
“It has been an amazing feeling: I am playing a lot of hours this year on this beautiful stadium,” he said with a smile in his on-court interview. “That not bothers me — just bothers my legs.”
Rafa Nadal failed to win a single game in the opening set of his U.S. Open quarter-final against Dominic Thiem but fought back to beat the Austrian,
Nadal won 40 percent of his first serves in the opener as he struggled with the high humidity on Arthur Ashe Stadium court, with Thiem becoming the first player to ‘bagel’ the Spaniard at Flushing Meadows since Andy Roddick 14 years ago.
“It’s been a great battle,” an exhausted Nadal said. “The conditions were tough, very humid for me.”
Thiem, who lost to Nadal in the French Open final but had beaten the Spaniard three times in 10 previous meetings, struck 74 winners, including 24 with his stylish single-handed backhand, to keep the champion under constant pressure.
“I’m very sorry for Dominic,” Nadal said. “He’s a close friend on tour, a great guy and I wish him the very best … He is young and has plenty of time to win tournaments.”
After Nadal roared back to take a 2-1 lead, the fourth set went to a tiebreak. Thiem raced to a 3-0 lead before Nadal fought back, but the Austrian held his nerve to level the match.
There were no breaks of serve in the deciding set and a second tiebreak ensued. The two were neck-in-neck at 5-5 when Nadal carved out a match point with his forehand.
Thiem’s wayward overhead smash handed the match to Nadal, who stood midcourt with his head thrown back and arms raised in the air in celebration.
“It’s going to be stuck in my mind forever,” Thiem said
“I’m going to remember this match, for sure. It’s cruel sometimes tennis, because I think this match didn’t really deserve a loser. But there has to be one.
“If we skip the first set, it was a really open match from beginning to the end. The way it ended up in the fifth set tiebreaker, from there it’s 50-50. He made one more point than me.”
Nadal paid tribute to the crowd for hanging on until the early hours of Wednesday morning.
“Thank you very much everybody for staying here tonight,” Nadal said after the four hour, 49 minute marathon.
“It’s been an amazing feeling. I’m playing a lot of hours this year at this beautiful stadium.”
“On my way back to the hotel now. Amazing match against a great player and great guy! And thanks #newyork for the amazing atmosphere and support” – Nadal later tweeted.
Next up for the top seed is a semi-final clash with big-serving Argentine and third seed Juan Martin del Potro.
Nadal will face Juan Martín del Potro on Friday, a rematch of their semifinal here last year, as well as a semifinal this year at the French Open and a quarterfinal at Wimbledon. All of those meetings were won by Nadal.
Del Potro booked his spot in the semifinals with a four-set win over John Isner, the last American man remaining, earlier Tuesday.
Nadal, a three-time U.S. Open champion, had lost to Thiem in the quarterfinals of the Madrid Open in May, but pummeled him in a lopsided French Open final in June. The two had played 10 times, but all previous meetings came on the clay courts preferred by both.
Thiem, an Austrian who was in the quarterfinals of the U.S. Open for the first time, blitzed Nadal at the onset of the match, hitting 13 winners in the opening set and just two unforced errors.