Defending champion Rafael Nadal’s title hopes came to a crashing end today in Buenos Aires where the Spaniard was stunned by Dominic Thiem 6-4, 4-6, 7-6(4) in the semifinals.
Nadal, who hadn’t lost a set all week, beat Thiem at the French Open almost two years ago. But the powerful and much-improved 22-year-old wasn’t shy and took advantage of an error-filled tiebreak to earn his first career win over a Big 4 player.
“It was an amazing match for me,” said Thiem who saved a matchpoint at 4-5 in the third. “It was very tight from the beginning. It’s special to play against the big guys, and to beat one is a dream come true. In the third set, Nadal really stepped up but I was able to counter-attack and play incredible shots.
“You have to be aggressive against him, because once you get on the defence, you have no chance,” Thiem added. “I had to play close to the lines and avoid long rallies, because [against Nadal] the longer the rally, the lower my chances of winning.”
Thiem punctuated the win on facebook: “Bamos defeated Vamos! I can not believe it! It were intense 3 hours on the court today, I fought off a match-point and managed to gain a win over one of the best clay courters. To beat such a player is insane, I will never forget that moment in my life. There won’t be much time for me to celebrate, because tomorrow at 2 o’clock I will start into the grande final here in Buenos Aires, fully motivated! Greetings from a very happy Dominic!”
Nadal heads to Rio still searching for answers and his game in 2016.
“It was a tough match. I had a chance to win and missed it but Thiem played well,” Nadal said. “I’m not worried. I just lacked consistency and need to make fewer unforced errors, but that’s nothing.”
In the final, Thiem will meet Nicolas Almagro. Almagro ended a 15-match losing streak to David Ferrer beating his countryman 6-4, 7-5.
Earlier in the day Ferrer won a 3-set match over Pablo Cuevas to reach the semifinals where the fresher Almagro proved too tough in the heat.
“I’m very happy,” said Almagro. “This is the reward for many months of hard work, but there’s no time to celebrate. I have to focus on tomorrow’s match and hopefully I can play at the same level.”
In Rotterdam, the final will put Gael Monfils against Martin Klizan. Monfils defeated Philipp Kohlschreiber while Klizan saved three matches points against Nicolas Mahut.
In Memphis, the Taylor Fritz story continued on Saturday. The 18-year-old sensation reached his first career ATP final coming back to beat Ricardis Berankis in a topsy-turvy 2-6, 6-3, 6-4 win.
“It’s the best feeling in the world,” said Fritz. “To be here and think that it’s the final is crazy. I’m really excited that I got to this level and I’ve proven myself that I belong here.
“It’s amazing to have this support. I feel so loved here. It’s the best feeling in the world. I owe a lot to the crowd pumping me up.”
Fritz was crushed early but earned a break mid-way through the second. In the third, the two traded several breaks and nearly another before Fritz was able to close out the match on his fifth matchpoint.
“I honestly felt he was unbeatable in the first set,” Fritz added. “He was making me look awful. I didn’t think there was much I could do. I tried to change things up in my game. He was returning my serves and putting me on defence. In the second set, I told myself that the way I was serving wasn’t going to cut it. I needed to crank it up a lot. I started hitting my serves 5-10 miles per hour faster. That was the biggest difference. Once I was holding my serve, it put pressure on him. That’s what allowed me to play my game more and allowed me to win.”
Fritz becomes the youngest American man to reach a tour final since Michael Chang won Wembley in 1989. The world No. 145 also moves on the edge of the Top 100 in the rankings.
Fritz will now have to deal with his first real test tomorrow in 3-time defending champion Kei Nishikori. The top seed beat Sam Querrey in three sets to reach his fourth straight Memphis final.
“We practised a lot in California,” Nishikori said of Fritz. “We’ve never played in a match, but I know he has a great serve and he’s a little like Sam. He hits a big forehand, backhand and serve. You can see he’s playing great here and I have to have good tactics for tomorrow.”
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