US Open | Nadal wins classic marathon
It has to be the match of the tournament. There have been some excellent encounters in the previous eight days, but the Rafa Nadal quarter-final against Dominic Thiem must rank as an epic of gladiatorial proportions as the Spaniard continues to fight his way to the final where he hopes to retain his title.
The ebb and flow of the match kept spectators stuck to their seats for 4-hours and 49-minutes with the eventual result always hanging by a thin thread as both players held the advantage over critical periods. Unfortunately it was Thiem who delivered that vital error in the final set tie-break to concede a place in the semi-finals.
It’s been a great a battle. The conditions were tough. A lot of humidity, I just keep going. Being honest, I feel very sorry for Dominic. he’s a great guy, great player Rafa Nadal
Bearing in mind that the match didn’t finish until 2.03 am Wednesday morning, it wouldn’t have been surprising if the spectators had ebbed away but the majority hung on wanting to see the eventual result.
Nadal won 0-6 6-4 7-5 7-6(4) 7-6 (5) fully demonstrating his philosophy of never giving up, playing matches point by point and game by game.
He never gave up despite losing that opener to love after 23-minutes, winning just 7 points, for only the fourth bagel set he has suffered in his Grand Slam career (Andy Roddick at the US Open 2004, Roger Federer at Wimbledon 2006 and Tomas Berdych at the Australian Open 2015). Thiem won 24 out of 31 points in that set striking 13 winners and making just 2 unforced errors. However the pace he was setting proved too hard to keep up and Nadal, having berated himself at the end of the opener by telling himself to ‘wake up!’, worked his way back into the match.
“It’s been a great a battle. The conditions were tough. A lot of humidity,” Nadal said after embracing his opponent and apologising for winning.
“I just keep going. Being honest, I feel very sorry for Dominic. he’s a great guy, great player.
“It was a very tough start. The only thing I think was finish this first set and forget about what happened.”
The two were facing each other for the 11th time with Nadal leading 7-3 as they entered the Arthur Ashe Stadium just after 9.00pm, but all those meetings were on clay the most recent being the French Open final.
Nadal, having evened things up in the second set, a revitalised Thiem struck back in the third and served for it at 5-4 only for the top seed to respond in kind and snatch it by claiming three consecutive games to take a 2-sets to one lead.
With the tension rising Thiem struck back with an early break in the fourth only for Nadal to get back on terms in the eighth game and stave off a break point in the tenth.
Serving to stay in at 5-6, Thiem was on the brink of defeat but Nadal missed a sitter of a volley which would have given him match point.
In the ensuing breaker, Thiem got a quick mini-break, went up 3-0 and held on to force a fifth set give himself a chance of defeating the world No.1 and title favourite.
Nadal had the first chance of a breakthrough at 2-all but saw his opponent successfully defend two break points. He was also in trouble at 5-all when 0-40 but again, Nadal failed to convert as Thiem continued to hang on hoping for his own chances in the tiebreaker.
There Nadal struck first but quickly gave it back with a wild forehand as the breaker swung back and forth with Nadal eventually closing it out on his first match-point when Thiem pushed a smash long.
When asked to explain his extraordinary performance following his victory, Nadal responded: “There is always the passion to keep going, play one more point. Keep going always. That’s the only way I’m able to be where I am today.”
Nadal finished with 55 winners, 49 unforced errors, but only converted 5 break points from the 17 he orchestrated. Thiem, in turn, had 58 winners against 74 unforced errors and converted 6 beak chances from 13.
Nadal now has a day to recover before he takes on Juan Martin del Potro who earlier had secured his semi-final place by defeating John Isner 6-7(5) 6-3 7-6(4) 6-2 as he dashed American hopes of winning their home slam.
Del Potro dropped his first set of the tournament against the 11th seed Isner, who had made the quarter-finals in New York for the first time in his career
Despite that, the 29-year-old Argentine was never broken in the 3 hour 31 minute match where Isner unleashed 26 aces but was undone by 52 unforced errors compared to Del Potro’s 14.
“To reach the semi-final again here in New York in my favourite tournament is very special to me,” said Del Potro after his eighth win over Isner in 12 meetings.
“To play John in these kind of matches, it’s like an epic. We fought the whole match and I survived with my serve which was key.”
Del Potro admitted the 33-degree temperatures proved a real challenge with the 10-minute heat rule allowing the players a welcome respite after the third set.
“I had a shower, lay on the table and I didn’t want to come back again. It was too hot to play tennis,” he joked.
But now he faces Nadal who, having taken part in the longest match the Spaniard has played in New York, is playing his 29th semi-final at a major.
Meanwhile the remaining quarter-finals being played Wednesday features the two-time champion Novak Djokovic against the man who upset Roger Federer in the last 16, John Millan while Marin Cilic takes on Kei Nishikori in a repeat of the 2014 final won by the Croat.