Nadal edges Thiem in epic clash

AFP
Rafael Nadal survived an epic US Open quarterfinal confrontation to defeat battling ninth seed Dominic Thiem 0-6, 6-4, 7-5, 6-7 (4), 7-6 (5) and reach the semifinals.
AFP
Reuters

Rafael Nadal of Spain reacts after beating Dominic Thiem of Austria over five sets in the quarterfinal of the 2018 US Open tennis tournament at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, New York. Nadal will face Argentina’s Juan Martin del Potro in the semifinal.

Defeding champion Rafael Nadal survived an epic US Open quarterfinal confrontation to defeat battling ninth seed Dominic Thiem 0-6, 6-4, 7-5, 6-7 (4), 7-6 (5) and reach the semifinals for the seventh time.

In a gripping 4-hour 49-minute contest, world number one Nadal won to keep his bid for a fourth title in New York and 18th Grand Slam crown on track.

However, the 32-year-old was fortunate to triumph on another hot and humid night at Flushing Meadows, 24 hours after Roger Federer had been dumped out of the tournament by John Millman.

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.”

Nadal had defeated Thiem in the Roland Garros final in June but this was their first meeting away from a clay court.

“He has a great attitude and is a great fighter,” added Nadal.

In a dramatic final set, Nadal saw five break points come and go before Thiem went long with a smash on the first match point.

Unforced errors

It was his 58th unforced error on a night when he sent down 18 aces and fired 74 winners.

“It’s going to be stuck in my mind forever. Forever I’m going to remember this match, for sure,” said Thiem after his first ever hard court match against Nadal.

“Tennis is cruel sometimes because I think this match didn’t really deserve a loser. But there has to be one.”

The semifinal will pit Nadal against third seed and 2009 US Open champion 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), 6-3, 7-6 (4), 6-2 and ending American hopes of a first men’s champion at the event since 2003.

Del Potro dropped his first set of the tournament against 11th seed Isner, who was playing in his maiden quarter-final at his home Slam.

Despite that, the 29-year-old 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 favorite 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.”

Isner paid tribute to Del Potro.

“He’s maybe playing some of the best tennis ever right now for him,” said the American.

Wednesday’s quarterfinals will see two-time champion Novak Djokovic face Millman, the world number 55.

Marin Cilic will face Kei Nishikori in a repeat of the 2014 final won by the giant Croat.

Serena still on course

Six-time champion Serena Williams shook off a sluggish start to power past eighth-seeded Karolina Pliskova 6-4, 6-3 and into the US Open semifinals.

The US superstar, chasing a record-equalling 24th major title, surrendered an early break to Pliskova, but she roared back with a streak of eight straight games to put away the opening set and take a 4-0 lead in the second against the woman who beat her in the semifinals at Flushing Meadows in 2016.

“I just wanted to play better,” Williams said of her mindset as she trailed 3-1 in the first. “I was thinking, you know, I can play better, so that was the good news.”

Williams did indeed cut down on the errors, and came up with the big serves when she needed them.

She finished the match with 13 aces and will take on Anastasija Sevastova for a place in the final after the 19th-seeded toppled defending champion Sloane Stephens 6-2, 6-3.

Pliskova, who managed to convert just two of 12 break point chances in the contest, said Williams was simply too good in the important moments.

“She hit all first serves on the break points, which is always a little bit tougher to return,” Pliskova said. “The second set, she was just mixing the serve. She was going a lot of wide. Not much that I could do on the break points.”

“I really feel like right now I’m playing free because I was having a baby this time last year, so I have nothing to prove,” said Williams seeking her first major since her daughter Olympia was born on September 1 of 2017.

With a win she would break out of a tie with Chris Evert for most US Open titles, and equal Margaret Court’s all-time record for Grand Slams.

Stephens ‘not connecting’

World number three Stephens, refused to blame the punishing afternoon heat and humidity for her lapses against Sevastova, including an inability to convert any of seven break chances in the opening set.

“When you don’t play big points well, the match can get away from you,” she said. “Mentally, physically, I just wasn’t connecting.

“I lost my nerves a little bit. I think she lost also her nerves a little bit, it’s normal. It’s for semifinals of US Open.”

The defeats of Stephens and Pliskova completed the exodus of top 10 seeds, although Pliskova noted that Williams’ 17th seeding — nine spots above her world ranking as she continues her post-baby comeback — was not reflective of her true abilities.

“She’s 17, but she’s not a player which should be 17,” Pliskova said.

The semifinal lineup will be completed when Spain’s Carla Suarez Navarro takes on 2017 runner-up Madison Keys and Japan’s Naomi Osaka faces Ukraine’s Lesia Tsurenko.


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