Two former champions exited Wednesday during the Australian Open quarterfinals.
Seeking a Roger Federer-tying 20th Slam, Rafael Nadal succumbed to Dominic Thiem in four tough sets dropping three breakers 7-6(3), 7-6(4), 4-6, 7-6(6) in yet another late-night thrill ride lasting 4 hours, 10 minutes
Nadal was the stronger of the two early but failed to close out the first set up 5-3; and then he got tripped up in a tiebreaker.
Much the same followed in the second set as Nadal again let a break lead go up 4-2 and once again it was Thiem coming up with the goods in the breaker while Rafa continues to struggle on serve in those key moments.
After over two hours of play, the two settled down in the third, cruising on serve, that is until Thiem missed a couple of backhands and was broken serving to stay in at 4-5.
With momentum now swinging slightly in Rafa’s direction, the Spaniard couldn’t mount much of a threat in the fourth. Thiem broke early, but the 26-year-old can unglued serving for the match at 5-4. To the roar of the crowd, Nadal leveled and here came another tiebreak.
Could Rafa really lose three tiebreakers in a single match for the first time in his career?
As the tension rose, Thiem kept the pressure piling up more and more mini-breaks to build a 6-4 lead on his serve. On the first match point, a sitter forehand put-away for Thiem found the net. Then at 6-all, a Thiem lob was called good but Nadal stopped the point to challenge… And indeed, Rafa was right. They played on.
But Thiem came up with a solid net-clipping backhand pass and then when a Rafa forehand misfired and sank in the net, it was over.
“All the match was on a very good level. We were both in good form,” Thiem said on court. “We already had this epic match n New York two years ago and today I had a feeling I was lucky in the right situations. The net cord was on my side. He is one of the greatest of all time, so you do sometimes need luck to beat him.
“I was a break down in first two sets and, in the first set, I was fortunate to get the break back at 4-5 when he was serving for the set,” he added. “In the second set, the break happened a little bit earlier. I played well in the two tiebreaks.”
Oh, but that missed chance to serve it out!
“Its a little bit demons in the head, like Roger said,” Thiem told the crowd about failing to serve it out. “It’s true. Everybody has it and I was just rushing way too much, changing a little bit the tactics from all the match and that was wrong.”
Thiem moved on to his fifth Slam semifinal, first off of clay.
For Nadal, it’s another missed chance at a second Career Slam and a shot at tying Federer. But also, he’ll lose No. 1 if Novak Djokovic goes on to win the title.
“I had a big chance with 5-3 in the first,” Nadal said. “I think I had set point serving. Was a very important moment of the match for sure.
“I think he’s playing great. He’s playing with a lot of energy, aggressive, determination. So well done for him.
“I honestly didn’t play a bad match. My attitude was great, I think, during the whole match. Good, positive, fighting spirit all the time, giving me more chances.
“Of course, I am sad. I lost an opportunity to be in the semifinals of another Grand Slam. But I lost against a great opponent. And he deserve it, too. Well done for him.”
Earlier in the day, Alexander Zverev finally reached his first Grand Slam semifinal eliminating a fading Stan Wawrinka 1-6, 6-3, 6-4, 6-2. Wawrinka, who had played five sets in two of his last three matches, couldn’t keep his excellent level up from the first, and the fresher Zverev won rather routinely thereafter.
“After that first set, I was getting ready to talk to the press about why I lost in straight sets,” Zverev said on court. “I turned it around and my energy picked up a bit. I wasn’t used to his ball… I needed a set to get used it. Thank God it worked out.
“It feels awesome. I’ve done well in other tournaments, but I could never break that barrier in Grand Slams. I’m happy to be in the semifinals. You can’t imagine what this means to me and I hope it will be the first of many.”
The 22-year-old German committed 31 double faults in three matches at the ATP Cup, but he’s got his serve right this week tossing in just 11 in five matches so far, partly because he’s not going big on his first. Today, he connected on 80% of his first serves.
“I worked very hard on it, worked a lot on it,” Zverev said of his serve. “I hope you can see in ATP Cup I was horrible, but this is a Grand Slam and this is where you’re meant to play your best tennis and I’ve been doing that… my energy picked up a little bit.”
Zverev also owns a 3-0 record over Wawrinka who hasn’t been to a Slam semifinal since the 2017 French Open.
“I started really well. He was a little bit nervous at the beginning. I could feel he was not playing freely. I was playing really aggressive, moving well, putting a lot of pressure all the time, every shot,” said Wawrinka.
“I know how well he can play,” he added. “For sure, he had some trouble with his serve before this tournament… The two times I played him, he was serving unbelievable and I had some trouble to break him. I know how well he can serve. Today, he was putting a lot of pressure with his serve.”
Zverev and Thiem will put one of them in their first Australian Open title match and first hard court Slam.
Tomorrow, the big showdown is set in the evening between Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer. In their 50th meeting, which Djokovic leads 26-23, the question will be Federer’s fitness after the Swiss played 14 of a possible 15 sets in his last three matches. And the 38-year-old came out with a groin injury in that win over Tennys Sandgren.
The two played an epic at Wimbledon but Federer returned the favored in London in November. This court, though, is playing slow which again gives the Serb the edge.
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