Nadal on epic US Open match: 'I suffered, that's the right word'
NEW YORK, United States – Rafael Nadal, trapped in a nightmare first set against Dominic Thiem in the quarterfinals of the US Open, knew where to look for answers.
He didn't cast his eyes toward the support team in his box, or send his racquets out to be restrung.
"When these things happen, normally I am not the guy that looks at the string or looks at the box or looks at the racket," said Nadal, who absorbed a 6-0 loss of the opening set, winning just seven points as Thiem rode roughshod over him in 24 minutes.
"I am the guy to look at myself," Nadal said. "I needed to move forward, to change that dynamic, and I did. But the first step to change that dynamic is not to find an excuse on the racket or on the string or on something that is not the truth. The only truth is that you have to do things better to be able to fight for the point and fight for the match."
That's just what the 17-time Grand Slam champion did over the course of a 4-hour 49-minute epic that concluded at 2:04 a.m. on Wednesday, September 5.
When it was all over, Nadal was happy to be in a seventh US Open semifinal, but even happier that he'd done everything he could to turn the match around.
"I played a lot of long and tough matches in my career. That's one more today," he said after his 0-6, 6-4, 7-5, 6-7 (4/7), 7-6 (7/5) win.
"In some way when you give everything that you have, win or lose the personal satisfaction when you give everything and you play with the right attitude is the same."
The 32-year-old Nadal was fortunate to triumph on another hot and humid night at Flushing Meadows, 24 hours after Roger Federer had been dumped out of the tournament by John Millman.
After suffering a first set "bagel," Nadal had to battle back from breaks in the third and fourth sets before seeing off the first top 20 player he had faced at the US Open since 2013.
"I suffered, that's the right word," said Nadal after playing his longest ever match at the tournament.
"I said to Dominic I am sorry. He's a great guy, a close friend who will have many more opportunities to win the big titles."
Nadal had defeated Thiem in the Roland Garros final in June but this was their first meeting away from a clay court.
"He has a great attitude and is a great fighter," added Nadal.
In a dramatic final set, Nadal saw five break points come and go before Thiem went long with a smash on the first match point.
It was his 58th unforced error on a night when he sent down 18 aces and fired 74 winners.
"It's going to be stuck in my mind forever. Forever I'm going to remember this match, for sure," said Thiem after his first ever hard court match against Nadal.
"Tennis is cruel sometimes because I think this match didn't really deserve a loser. But there has to be one."
The semifinal will pit Nadal against third seed and 2009 US Open champion Juan Martin del Potro for the second successive Grand Slam.
At Wimbledon, Nadal came back from two sets to one down to win in five in a quarterfinal which stretched to almost five hours.
Thiem broke three times in a 24-minute first set on Tuesday, handing Nadal just his third 'bagel' at a Grand Slam.
The top seed won just seven points in the opener.
"I told myself 'wake up'," said Nadal.
Nadal recovered from being broken as he served for the second set in the ninth game with an immediate break back to level the contest.
Thiem then grabbed a 4-3 lead in the third which he stretched to 5-3 but then it was his turn to crack as Nadal raced away with three games to claim a two sets to one lead.
Thiem was 4-2 ahead in the fourth set before he was again reeled in and he was two points from defeat in the 12th game.
But he took the tiebreaker before Nadal just proved the steadier of the two in the final set decider.
Del Potro reached the semifinals for the third time, defeating John Isner 6-7 (5/7), 6-3, 7-6 (7/4), 6-2 and ending American hopes of a first men's champion at the event since 2003.
Del Potro dropped his first set of the tournament against 11th seed Isner, who was playing in his maiden quarter-final at his home Slam.
Despite that, the 29-year-old was never broken in the 3 hour 31 minute match where Isner unleashed 26 aces but was undone by 52 unforced errors compared to Del Potro's 14.
"To reach the semifinal again here in New York in my favourite tournament is very special to me," said Del Potro after his eighth win over Isner in 12 meetings.
"To play John in these kind of matches, it's like an epic.
"We fought the whole match and I survived with my serve which was key."
Del Potro admitted the 33-degree temperatures proved a real challenge with the 10-minute heat rule allowing the players a welcome respite after the third set.
"I had a shower, lay on the table and I didn't want to come back again. It was too hot to play tennis," he joked.
Isner said he needed to change his shirt 11 times.
Isner paid tribute to Del Potro.
"He's maybe playing some of the best tennis ever right now for him," said the American.
Wednesday's quarterfinals will see two-time champion Novak Djokovic face Millman, the world number 55.
Marin Cilic will face Kei Nishikori in a repeat of the 2014 final won by the giant Croat. – Rappler.com