Nervy Rafa self-destructs as Thiem triumphs

 

In a tournament ever more epic, world No.1 Rafael Nadal exited the Australian Open just before midnight when he lost three tie-breaks to Dominic Thiem on an evening of controversy and angst.

The 7-6 (3) 7-6(4) 4-6 7-6(4) score does not remotely begin to tell the story. This was extraordinary and superbly as Thiem played, Nadal will be kicking himself.

Nadal had already squandered the first set from a break up when he was warned for a time violation for exceeding the shot clock on his serve midway through the second set

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Rafael Nadal has been knocked out of the Australian Open in a quarter-final war with Dominic Thiem.
Rafael Nadal has been knocked out of the Australian Open in a quarter-final war with Dominic Thiem.

He was a break ahead again and frustrated on a hot, humid night (it was 28 degrees at 9pm) the world No.1 headed to the umpire for a showdown.

Two very long, physical points had just been played and perhaps a little leniency might be given Nadal felt.

He was batted away at which point the conditions and the pounding aggressive play by the 26-year-old Thiem gnawed away.

Thiem, world ranked five, duly broke back for 4-4 and after a second poor tie-break in succession, Nadal was down by two sets.

Dominic Thiem celebrates his extraordinary victory which pushed him through to the semi-finals.
Dominic Thiem celebrates his extraordinary victory which pushed him through to the semi-finals.

If there is one man to back from two sets down it is Majorca's finest surely but, staggeringly, he has not come back from such a deficit since Wimbledon 2007 and could not here.

It is rare to see the Spaniard so uncertain but, on serve, he appeared overly conscious of the shot clock, aware that overrunning it again would lead to the loss of a first serve. For a player as twitchy and routine bound as him, it was a damning penalty, making him tentative and nervy.

But praise to the Austrian, facing a foe to whom he trailed 9-4 in matches played calls for enormous resolve and self-belief and he delivered.

Nadal waged a running battle with the chair umpire over a range of things - from a code violation to a malfunctioning air-conditioner.
Nadal waged a running battle with the chair umpire over a range of things - from a code violation to a malfunctioning air-conditioner.

It is rare to see the Spaniard so uncertain but, on serve, he appeared overly conscious of the shot clock, aware that overrunning it again would lead to the loss of a first serve. For a player as twitchy and routine bound as him, it was a damning penalty, making him tentative and nervy.

But praise to the Austrian, facing a foe to whom he trailed 12-1 in matches played calls for enormous resolve and self-belief and he delivered.

Had Thiem glanced across at Nadal's celebration when he netted to give the Spaniard the third set, he might have been tempted to pack it all in there and then, Nadal pumping his left arm vigorously, his emotions and energy now solely positive.

But he pulled himself together.

"It's a little bit demons in the head, like Roger (Federer) said. It's true. Everybody has it," said a markedly relieved Thiem.

"I was rushing way too much. Changing a little bit tactic from all the match. That was wrong.

"Then of course it's very tough to handle if you are out of five-all against Rafa. Match starts from zero again."

He is now into uncharted territory in Melbourne but has reached the last four French Open semi-finals (winning two) and has what it takes to defeat Alexander Zverev in Friday's semi-final, holding a 6-2 lead over the German.

"I can't wait to be back," Thiem said.


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