Rafael Nadal was pushed to the very limit by a spirited Dominic Thiem in their US Open quarter-final on Tuesday night, with the Spanaird prevailing 0-6, 6-4, 7-5, 6-7 (4), 7-6 (5) in a blockbuster tie at Flushing Meadows.
The two had battled it out for the French Open title earlier this year, but that match at Rolland Garros was a damp squib compared to this one for on the crimson surface, Nadal steamrolled his opponent in straight sets.
Thiem had clearly learnt the lessons of his loss and came out all guns blazing, taking the opening set to love as Nadal struggled to keep up with his younger opponent’s aggressive play.
Nadal may not be as scucsessul in New York as he is in Paris, but with three US Open titles to his name, he’s still won more than most and his pedigree started to show as the second set started.
Breaking Thiem at a crucial juncture, the World No.1 quickly closed out the set but then found himself in trouble early on in the second.
For Thiem had broken and consolidated and was on the verge of securing a double break.
Yet, the indefatigable Spaniard, as is his wont, refused to give up and saved a couple of break points before going on to break the Austrian back.
With a heat wave striking New York and temperatures crossing 27 degrees at night, it appeared that Nadal would see off the tie with a four-set victory but Thiem’s seemed to have found his mojo once again.
Back firmly to the wall, the 25-year-old got his one-handed backhand to work again, while belting out excellent serve after serve to force the fourth set to a tie break.
Once ahead, he never relinquished his lead and a tantalising fifth set was on the cards.
Hollywood icons like Ben Stiller were in attendance and the vast majority of the crowd at the Arthur Ashe Stadium were backing Nadal but had no qualms with acknowledging Thiem’s effort.
No man blinked in the decider, with the second tiebreak of the net beckoning and Nadal’s reservoir of experience and stamina served him well as he managed to vanquish his younger foe in a marathon tie that lasted little under five hours.
Up next is a semi-final clash with the resurgent giant that is Juan Martin del Potro and Nadal has less than 48 hours to recover for his clash with the Argentine.
So far, Nadal has lost only three games on tour this season and del Potro will have to play out of his skin if he’s to prevent the Spaniard from reaching his fourth US Open final.