Rafael Nadal was left to rue missed opportunities following a marathon 6-7 (3-7) 6-7 (4-7) 6-4 6-7 (6-8) loss to Dominic Thiem in the quarter-finals of the Australian Open.
The world No 1 had an opportunity to serve for the first set and went a break up in the second, before losing both to the determined 26-year-old Austrian.Sponsored link
Nadal re-grouped and took the third set, but Thiem showcased his fitness and shot-making prowess to capitalise on an early break in the fourth and eventually finished the job in another tie break after four hours and 10 minutes.
This defeat ends Nadal’s quest to equal Roger Federer’s record of 20 Grand Slam titles in Australia and brings his record against Thiem back to 9-5.
Thiem will now face Germany’s Alexander Zverev in the second semi-final on Friday after Zverev triumphed over Stan Wawrinka 1-6 6-3 6-4 6-2 earlier in the day.
The first semi-final will take place on Thursday at the Rod Laver Arena and will be the 50th career-meeting between Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic.
Despite meeting 13 times in their career, the Nadal and Thiem had only clashed on hard courts once previously at the US Open last year.
Incredible performance from @ThiemDomi to beat @RafaelNadal at a slam for the 1st time. Coming of age moment for Thiem. My pick now to make the finals and play @DjokerNole in the finals. If that happens, I hope it is as good a match as at #atpfinal2019 in London
Early on in Melbourne, all the signs pointed towards another epic encounter as both players traded blows from the baseline with their punchy topspin groundstrokes.
The two exchanged service holds until Nadal made a move in the eighth game and secured the first of three break points with a jaw-dropping backhand lob.
With a 5-3 cushion and Nadal winning nearly 80 per cent of points on his first serve, it looked as if the first set would come to a quick 6-3 close. However, Thiem had other ideas. He broke back by attacking everything, he finished points early and pressured Nadal with his net-game.
The world No 5, who was playing in his first Australian Open quarter-final, took the set to a tie-break. He found another gear in it and won seven of the last eight points to take the set.Zverev beats Wawrinka to reach first major semiAlexander Zverev recovered from a slow start to beat Stan Wawrinka at the Australian Open and reach his first Grand Slam semi-final.
The second set followed a similar pattern to the first. For the first four games neither player blinked until Nadal made another early move in the fifth.
He created three break points and Thiem’s second double fault of the match handed him the break on a plate. The Austrian dipped, Nadal took advantage to go 4-2 up but then faltered after and became a little frustrated and grumpy.
As Nadal’s shots found the net, and Thiem restored his own confidence, the set levelled back at four games all before heading to another a tie-break.
Thiem put his foot on the gas during it, he created a four-point cushion and weathered another Nadal fightback to take it 7-4.
As great champions do, a dogged Nadal turned the tables when it mattered and clawed the third set back by 6-4.
Unlike the previous three sets, Thiem made the first move in the fourth as he used his outstanding groundstrokes to paint the lines, and his exceptional defence to gain the early break.
It wasn’t plain-sailing from there though and this time it was the Austrian who needed to show a champion’s mentality. He served for the match but couldn’t finish it off and instead had to endure yet another tie-break.
In what would become the match-deciding tie-break, it was a measure of Nadal’s attitude that he pulled Thiem back from 5-2 to 6-6. However, in the end the Austrian’s pressure proved to be just too much.