New York: Defending champion Rafael Nadal survived an opening set bagel Tuesday before beating ninth seed Dominic Thiem 0-6, 6-4, 7-5, 6-7(4/7), 7-6(7/5) and reach the semifinals of the US Open tennis tournament for the seventh time.
In a gripping four-hour 49-minute contest which concluded at 2.04 am Wednesday, World No.1 Nadal won through to keep his bid for a fourth title here at the Flushing Meadows and 18th Grand Slam crown on track.
After suffering a first set ‘bagel’, Nadal had to battle back from breaks in the third and fourth sets before seeing off the first top 20 player he had faced at the US Open since 2013.
“I suffered, that’s the right word,” said Nadal after playing his longest ever match at the tournament. “I said to Dominic ‘I am sorry’. He’s a great guy, a close friend who will have many more opportunities to win the big titles. He has a great attitude and is a great fighter,” added Nadal.
In a dramatic final set, Nadal saw five breakpoints come and go before Thiem went long with a smash on the first match point. It was his 58th unforced error on a night when he sent down 18 aces and fired 74 winners.
The semifinal will pit Nadal against third seed Juan Martin del Potro for the second successive Grand Slam. Del Potro reached the semifinals for the third time, defeating John Isner 6-7(5/7), 6-3, 7-6(7/4), 6-2 and ending American hopes of a first men’s champion at the event since 2003.
Thiem broke three times in a 24-minute first set, handing Nadal just his third ‘bagel’ at a Grand Slam. The top seed won just seven points in the opener. “I told myself ‘wake up’,” informed Nadal later.
Nadal recovered from being broken as he served for the second set in the ninth game with an immediate break back to level the contest.
Thiem then grabbed a 4-3 lead in the third which he stretched to 5-3 but then it was his turn to crack as Nadal raced away with three games to claim two sets to one lead.
Thiem was 4-2 ahead in the fourth set before he was again reeled in and he was two points from defeat in the 12th game. But he took the tie-breaker before Nadal just proved the steadier of the two in the final set decider.
Del Potro meanwhile 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.