Dominic Thiem entered his Australian Open clash against Rafael Nadal with a 0-5 record in Grand Slam matches against the Spaniard, but the World No. 5 produced his best tennis in pressure moments to secure victory and advance to his first semi-final at Melbourne Park.
“It’s amazing to beat the current World No. 1, Rafa, such a legend… It’s a very special victory for me,” said Thiem after his 7-6(3), 7-6(4), 4-6, 7-6(6) win.
The Austrian rallied from a break down in the first two sets and won three tie-breaks against the 2009 champion to book a semi-final clash against Alexander Zverev. It was Thiem’s seventh victory from 10 matches against the Big 3 of Nadal (2-2), Novak Djokovic (2-1) and Roger Federer (3-0) since the start of the 2019 ATP Tour season.
“It was just an unbelievable match, like an epic one, four hours and 10 minutes. I think on a very high level from both of us. That’s what I’m most happy about. Also, of course, that I’m for the first time in the semis of Australian Open,” said Thiem.
Thiem Stuns Nadal To Reach First Semi-final In Melbourne
The defensive skill of Thiem throughout the four-hour, 10-minute contest impressed many fans inside Rod Laver Arena. The 26-year-old charged across the baseline and found a way to return one extra ball, placing Nadal in difficult positions as he often attempted to close the net.
But Thiem was clear that while his defensive game was a key component in his quarter-final victory, it was not the only factor in his success. The 2019 Nitto ATP Finals runner-up needed his whole game to work at full capacity to overcome the 19-time Grand Slam champion for a fifth time in 14 ATP Head2Head matches.
“If you want to have a chance against him, one of the all-time greats, everything needs to work in your game,” said Thiem. “Also, of course, the defensive game. In some key moments, like 6/6 in the tie-break in the fourth set, my defensive game really worked. There was a great passing shot. It needs to be there to beat players like him.
“I think I improved my defensive game. Offensive game was always one of my strongest parts. Defensive game always so-so. It’s super important for me, if I’m not in control of a point, to sometimes turn it around.”
After taking the opening two sets, Thiem began to lose control of the match as Nadal snatched a late break in the third set and earned three break points in the fourth set.
After wrestling back control to serve for the match at 5-4, the 16-time ATP Tour titlist committed four errors in a nervous game to drop serve and allow his opponent back into the match. But Thiem regrouped well and, despite giving Nadal a second chance, still managed to find a way across the line in the tie-break.
“I’m really proud of how I stayed in the match after a very tough situation when I served for it at 5-4 in the fourth set. I really threw away that game with pretty stupid mistakes,” said Thiem.
“He played a [good] game for 6-5. I really stayed in the match, got together everything again in the tie-break. That’s what I’m proud of, that I overcame this small or short, weak part of my game.
Despite Thiem’s breakthrough moment in Melbourne, the Austrian is well aware that two members of the Big 3, Djokovic and Federer, are still in contention for the title at Melbourne Park.
Thiem, and semi-final opponent Zverev, are aiming to end the Big 3’s streak of 12 consecutive Grand Slam trophies since the start of the 2017 ATP Tour season. The last man outside the Big 3 to win a Grand Slam trophy was three-time major winner Stan Wawrinka, who defeated Djokovic in the 2016 US Open championship match.
“To really break a barrier, one young player has to win a Slam,” said Thiem. “One of us is going to be in the final, but it’s still a very long way to go. I mean, the other semi-final is still two of the Big 3. I think we are still a pretty long way from overtaking or from breaking this kind of barrier.”