Defending champion Rafael Nadal dug deep to win the longest match of this year’s US Open in a classic five-set quarter-final against Dominic Thiem – which finished at 2:03am local time.
World number one Nadal lost the opening set 6-0 after being outpowered by the Austrian ninth seed in New York.
However, the 32-year-old Spanish top seed recovered to lead two sets to one before Thiem levelled in a tie-break.
Nadal edged a tense fifth-set tie-break to win 0-6 6-4 7-5 6-7 (4-7) 7-6 (7-5).
The 17-time Grand Slam champion clinched victory when Thiem hit an overhead smash long on the first match point, the drama continuing until the last shot in an epic encounter lasting four hours and 49 minutes.
Nadal jumped over the net to console his Austrian opponent at the end, the pair embracing as those left inside Arthur Ashe Stadium rose to their feet to give them a thunderous ovation.
“I said to Dominic: ‘I’m very sorry and keep going.’ He has plenty of time to win. He will have his chances in the future without a doubt,” Nadal said.
Asked about how he got through the tense moments, Nadal added: “Suffering is the right word. It was a great battle.”
He will play Argentine third seed Juan Martin del Potro, the 2009 champion, in Friday’s semi-finals.
“It is good to have two days that probably give me the chance to be 100% in the semi-finals,” Nadal added.
- Del Potro beats Isner to reach semi-finals
- Williams fights back to reach last four
- Federer needs to play more tournaments – Cash
- Djokovic targets 12th US Open semi-final
Thiem fails to gain revenge
Thiem was aiming to earn a measure of revenge over Nadal, who dismantled his game for a straightforward victory in the French Open final in June – the Austrian’s only appearance in a Grand Slam showpiece.
Ultimately, he faced more disappointment against one of the sport’s all-time great fighters.
Eventually Nadal’s endurance came out on top in this match, which was his 17th at a Grand Slam to go past the four-hour mark.
In contrast, 25-year-old Thiem had never previously gone past the four-hour mark in his whole career.
Neither player outwardly showed signs of fatigue as they continued to trade blows deep into a high-octane match.
Stylish and powerful winners continued to flow from the racquets of both players until the end, despite the match entering an energy-sapping fifth hour in hot and humid conditions at Flushing Meadows.
Despite the drama, the 24,000-capacity Arthur Ashe Stadium was only about a third full when the match concluded under the lights, with many fans needing to leave early to get home.
Those who were left were treated to a tense final-set tie-break, which proved to be a fitting end to a great match.
“This match is going to be stuck in my mind forever – tennis is cruel sometimes,” Thiem said.
“This match didn’t deserve a loser, but there has to be one.”
Nadal ultimately digests rare ‘bagel’
Thiem has gained a reputation as one of the most powerful players on the men’s tour, with Nadal identifying his thunderous groundstrokes as the danger before their last-eight tie.
And Thiem came out swinging against Nadal in a 24-minute opening set which left the packed crowd inside Ashe stunned.
Nadal had faced two gruelling matches against Karen Khachanov and Nikoloz Basilashvili coming into the quarter-final, and Thiem was keen to test his energy levels from the start.
Potent off both flanks, Thiem hit 13 winners and fired down five aces to comprehensively win the first set.
Nadal won just seven points as he was ‘bagelled’ for the first time at the US Open since a second-round defeat by American second seed Andy Roddick in 2004.