Dominic Thiem Beats Rafael Nadal in Australian Open Quarterfinal
MELBOURNE, Australia — There will be a new-generation men’s semifinal at the Australian Open when Dominic Thiem faces Alexander Zverev for a chance to face Roger Federer or Novak Djokovic in the final.
Both defeated members of tennis’s old guard in the quarterfinals, with Thiem finishing off a thrilling victory over No. 1 Rafael Nadal after midnight on Thursday, 7-6 (3), 7-6 (4), 4-6, 7-6 (6). The match lasted more than four hours.
Zverev, the No. 7 seed from Germany, defeated Stan Wawrinka, a three-time Grand Slam singles champion, earlier on Wednesday, 1-6, 6-3, 6-4, 6-2.
It will be the first Grand Slam semifinal for Zverev, a lanky 22-year-old from Germany who has broken out of a slump in Melbourne. It will be the first Australian Open semifinal for Thiem, a 26-year-old from Austria who lost to Nadal in the last two French Open finals.
“To really break a barrier, one young player has to win a Slam. And yeah, one of us is going to be in the finals, but it’s still a very long way to go,” Thiem said. “The other semifinal still has two of the Big Three, so I think we’re still a pretty long way from overtaking or breaking this kind of barrier.”
Federer and Djokovic were scheduled to play their semifinal on Thursday night.
Thiem is an all-court threat now with his baseline power and elite defensive skills. He had beaten Nadal four times in regular tour events, but never in a Grand Slam tournament. In 2018, he pushed Nadal into a fifth-set tiebreaker in the quarterfinals of the United States Open before losing in one of the best matches of that season.
It looked like he might falter again on Wednesday night when he served for the match at 5-4 in the fourth set only to crack with a double fault and three forehand errors.
“It’s a little bit demons in the head, like Roger said, it’s true,” Thiem said, referring to a comment by Roger Federer last week that the ‘demons are always there.’”
But despite all the mental obstacles, Federer, 38, and Thiem are both still in the Australian Open. Federer saved seven match points on Tuesday against the unseeded American Tennys Sandgren to earn a semifinal spot against Novak Djokovic.
It will be their 50th meeting, but though Thiem and Zverev are friends and established members of the top 10, this will be their first meeting at this late stage of a major tournament.
Thiem secured his spot after losing his serve at 5-4 in the final set and then missing shots on his first two match points in the tiebreaker. But tied at 6-6, he ripped a flat backhand passing shot that ticked the net and sailed past Nadal for a winner. On Thiem’s third match point, Nadal had an opening but missed a forehand into the tape.
Several shots from Thiem hit the net cord and bounced his way. “Today I was really feeling lucky in the right situations,” Thiem said. “The net cord was really on my side.”
But Nadal dismissed that line of thinking. “I’m not a big fan of talking about luck,” he said. “A match like this does not deserve to be viewed from this perspective. We played for more than four hours. It does not come down to luck even if the differences in a match like this are very small.”
Nadal, 33, has won 19 Grand Slam singles titles but only one of those has come at the Australian Open.
Nadal, who was aiming to match Federer’s men’s record of 20 major singles titles, crossed to Thiem’s side of the net congratulate him. He is now in danger of losing his No. 1 ranking to Djokovic, who can reclaim it by winning the title.
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