It all came down to a fifth-set tiebreaker that started a little before 2 in the morning.
For five sets and nearly five hours, Rafael Nadal and Dominic Thiem went head to head on a humid night at Arthur Ashe Stadium before their quarterfinal match was decided when Nadal won a 7-5 tiebreaker early Wednesday morning.
Nadal ended up winning the match, 0-6, 6-4, 7-5, 6-7 (4), 7-6 (5), to advance to the semifinals. The match, which lasted 4 hours, 48 minutes, was the longest Nadal has ever played at the U.S. Open. And it was the longest Thiem has ever played period.
“It was a great battle and a tough war,” Nadal said after the match. “I want to thank everyone for staying to watch it.”
Nadal, the No. 1 player in the world, has won 17 major singles titles. Thiem has never won a major tournament, but he did have some reason to have confidence entering Tuesday night’s match. Thiem is one of only three players to have beaten Nadal in 2018, with his win coming in Madrid. His lifetime record against Nadal is 3-7, including a loss to Nadal in the final of the French Open.
The match started off strangely as Nadal failed to win a game in the first set.
“I was telling myself wake up,” Nadal said. “It was a tough set.”
Nadal seemed to have seized the momentum after winning the second and third sets. Thiem had every reason to be demoralized at the end of the third set when Nadal won three straight games, including a 14-point marathon game to break him in the final game of the set.
Instead, the 25-year-old seemed to gain energy as the fourth set went on and it showed in the tiebreaker when, helped by some sloppy mistakes by Nadal, he jumped out to a 3-0 lead and then held on to force a fifth set.
The win advances Nadal to the tournament’s semifinals, where he will play No. 3 seed Juan Martin del Potro on Friday.
Thiem joked before Tuesday night’s match that a 3-7 record against Nadal isn’t something to exactly boast about.
“Nobody’s game really matches up well with his,” Thiem said earlier in the week.
But Tuesday night, Thiem’s did.