ATP Australian Open: Dominic Thiem overpowers Rafael Nadal to reach semis

Tennis - It will be the first Major semi-final outside clay for the Austrian who will face Alexander Zverev in the battle for the place in the final

by Jovica Ilic
ATP Australian Open: Dominic Thiem overpowers Rafael Nadal to reach semis

Facing each other for the sixth time at Majors, Dominic Thiem delivered his first victory over Rafael Nadal, defeating world no. 1 7-6, 7-6 4-6, 7-6 after four hours and ten minutes! The Austrian is through to his fifth Major semi-final and the first outside clay, facing Alexander Zverev for the place in the final.

Thiem was the more aggressive player and the one who claimed the pivotal points of the opening two sets that built a massive advantage, prevailing despite losing serve four times and delivering one break less. The Austrian was the more determined player in the first set, hitting more winners and errors and delivering the best tennis in the right moments to overpower world no.

1, saving a set point on the return in the ninth game and clinching seven out of last eight points in the tie break to forge an early advantage. Nadal kicked off the match with a forehand down the line winner, holding with a good serve to get his name on the scoreboard.

The Austrian fired an unreturned serve in the second game for a hold at love before the Spaniard moved 2-1 in front with another comfortable service game. Finding the range early on, Dominic produced another hold at love to level the score at 2-2, doing everything right so far and creating a break chance in the fifth game following a loose forehand from Rafa.

World no. 1 saved it with a powerful serve and brought the game home after a backhand mistake from Thiem to avoid an early setback and stay on the positive side of the scoreboard. Cracking deep and powerful groundstrokes from both wings, the Austrian closed the sixth game with two forehand winners, opening the court nicely and experiencing no troubles on serve so far.

Blasting fury from the initial shot, Nadal held at love to move 4-3 up following a smash winner, having to keep a high level if he wanted to stay in touch with a strong opponent who was yet to make a mistake in his games.

That all changed in game eight when Rafa created three break chances with a backhand down the line winner, seizing the first with a perfect lob winner that sent him 5-3 in front. Serving for the set, 2009 champion wasted a set point and faced a challenge after a beautiful backhand winner from Thiem, fending it off with a forehand winner and having to play against another one following a volley winner from the Austrian at the net.

Nadal denied that one with an unreturned serve as well before striking another weak forehand that offered a break chance to the younger player. Dominic converted this one with a return winner, pulling the break back and reducing the deficit to 4-5.

Rafa stayed in the tenth game with a forehand crosscourt winner that caught Thiem on a wrong foot before the Austrian held with two winners to prolong the set and gather momentum. Staying focused, Nadal held at 15 with a service winner to gain another lead and Thiem repeated that in his game to set up a tie break in just under an hour.

Rafa opened it with two winners and Dominic grabbed two of his own to stay in touch, taking the next two as well to open a 4-2 gap. A return winner pushed the Austrian 6-3 up, closing the set with a forehand down the line winner in the 11th point, taking seven of the last eight points to grab the opener in 68 minutes.

In set number two, Rafa wasted a break advantage just like in the opener, saving a set point in the 12th game but losing the tie break to find himself on the verge of defeat. They again had more winners than unforced errors, pushing each other to the limits and with the Austrian who was the stronger player when it mattered the most, moving closer to the finish line and one of his most significant victories in a career.

A forehand winner secured the opening game for Thiem, with Nadal delivering a comfortable hold at love to level the score at 1-1, eager to stay on the level terms with an inspired opponent and fight until the end. From 30-0 down, the Austrian claimed four points on serve in the third game to stay ahead, drawing errors from Nadal who couldn't create break chances.

Four quick points led Rafa towards another hold at love, determined to leave that opening set behind and create some damage on the return as soon as possible. The fifth game offered three break opportunities for him following a forehand winner, covering the court nicely and forcing uncomfortable hitting from Thiem who fired a double fault to lose serve at love and push Nadal in front.

Unlike in the opening set, Rafa confirmed the break with a forehand winner, opening a 4-2 advantage and hoping for more of the same in the rest of the set. Out of sudden, Thiem broke back at love in the eighth game after a costly double fault from Nadal who lost the ground completely, losing the next game at love after a backhand error and serving to stay in the set at 4-5.

The Spaniard held with an ace to prolong the set and Dominic brought another game home to extend the lead to a 6-5. Rafa fended off a set point with a forehand down the line winner, closing the game with a backhand crosscourt that stayed out of Thiem's reach and setting up a tie break where the pressure was on his shoulders.

From 4-0 down, Nadal climbed back to 4-4 before playing a weak drop shot in the tenth point that Thiem captured and turned into a forehand winner and a 6-4 advantage. A lucky net cord helped Dominic to fire a forehand winner in the 11th point and move two sets to love up, taking another big step towards the first victory over Rafa at Majors.

After three hours of an incredible battle, the drama was heating up at Rod Laver Arena, as Nadal claimed the third set 6-4, reducing the deficit to two sets to one and staying alive in the battle for the semi-final. The Spaniard lost only four points on serve and grabbed a late break to keep his chances of reaching the next round and staying on the ATP throne on Monday.

With no room for errors, Rafa held at 15 in the first game of the third set before Dominic landed an ace to level the score at 1-1. An ace sent Rafa 3-2 up, producing three great holds so far in the third set that Dominic followed with another service game where he managed to overpower the rival from the baseline.

There was no drama in the seventh game either, with Nadal holding at 15 thanks to a backhand error from Thiem, with the Spaniard having the upper hand in the shortest rallies so far and the Austrian who ruled in the more extended ones.

Dominic forced an error from Rafa in the eighth game, leveling the score at 4-4 after only seven points for the returners so far in the third set. A forehand winner in the ninth game delivered another comfortable hold for Nadal who forced Thiem to serve for staying in the set in the game that followed.

Feeling the pressure, the Austrian netted an easy backhand to fall 40-15 behind, fending off the first set point with a service winner before placing another backhand into the net to hand the set to Nadal in just under three hours.

With the momentum on his side, Rafa created two break chances at the beginning of the fourth set, denied by some powerful hitting from Thiem who netted a forehand at deuce, repelling the third break chance with a brave forehand winner.

The Austrian held after forcing an error from the Spaniard, gaining a massive boost and denying two straight breaks of serve. Dominic carried this advantage towards a break in the third game following a loose forehand from Rafa, securing the third break of serve since the beginning of the encounter that put him into a driving seat again.

The Austrian cemented the break with an ace in the fourth game and Rafa had to work hard to stay within one break deficit, reducing the gap to 2-3 with a forehand winner in the fifth game. Thiem closed the sixth game with a hold at 15 thanks to an ace and Rafa delivered a hold from 30-0 down thanks to an ace to remain within one break deficit.

Serving in the eighth game, Dominic blasted a forehand down the line winner, forcing Rafa to serve for staying in the tournament. Shaking the pressure away, Nadal brought the game home at 30 and created two break chances on the return, seizing the second one after a wild forehand from Thiem to level the score at 5-5 and stay in contention.

With this new opportunity, Nadal held in game 11 to gain the advantage before the Austrian grabbed the next one to set up a tie break, a must-win one for the 19-time Major winner. The Austrian made two massive errors to fall 2-1 behind in the early stages before taking control, opening a 5-2 lead and driving closer to the finish line when Rafa sent a backhand long.

A service winner pushed world no. 5 6-4 in front, wasting the first match point with a terrible forehand that finished in the middle of the net. Rafa saved the second with a well-constructed attack to level the score at 6-6 and increase what had already been an incredible drama.

A forehand winner after a lucky net cord gave Thiem a 7-6 advantage and the third match point that he seized when Rafa netted a forehand.

Dominic Thiem Rafael Nadal Alexander Zverev