US Open Flashback: When Rafael Nadal marginally edged past Dominic Thiem in a night to remember at the Arthur Ashe
Following three successive triumphs at the Majors back in 2010 when Rafael Nadal, the ‘King of Clay’ won French Open, Wimbledon and US Open that year.
The Spaniard enjoyed a remarkable hardcourt season in 2013 when his second triumph at the US Open was like icing on the cake following his memorable victories at Indian Wells, Rogers Cup and Cincinnati Masters earlier that year.
Nadal bagged his 16th Grand Slam title when he won again at the Flushing Meadows, New York for the third time in his career, back in 2017 and won the title comprehensively after he dominated Juan Martin Del Potro and Kevin Anderson in the semi-finals and finals respectively.
Ever since he made a comeback at the start of the 2017 season following two lacklustre seasons, the Spaniard has been brilliant in past two and half years, winning three consecutive French Open titles and one US Open crown.
At the US Open in 2018, the then 17-time Grand Slam champion was forced to retire owing to a knee injury in his semi-final encounter against the rampant Argentine Del Potro after being down two sets and that also marked an early end to his campaign in the 2018 season.
But, before that, the Spaniard was made to work hard in the lead up to his semi-final tussle against Del Potro.
Against Russia’s Karen Khachanov in the third round, the Spaniard overcame the fierce resistance of his young opponent to win the contest in four sets which included a couple of tie-breakers as well. Again, in the fourth round, the Spaniard spent more than three hours on the court to get past Georgian Nikoloz Basilashvili in four sets and set up a mouthwatering quarter-final match-up against Austria's Dominic Thiem on the Arthur Ashe Stadium.
In the lead up to their quarter-final encounter, Thiem had been the only player to trouble Nadal on clay in the past two years.
He was rejuvenated following his straight-sets victory against the 2017 US Open runner-up Kevin Anderson in his fourth round tussle before he met the defending champion in the quarter-final.
Thiem makes Nadal look like a rookie to win the first set 6-0
In the 85° F heat, at the Flushing Meadows, on the slower court conditions, Thiem brought his ‘A’ game to decimate Nadal 6-0 in just 24 minutes to send the crowd into utter disbelief at the Arthur Ashe Stadium.
The majority of the crowd that was pro-Nadal was in stunned silence as John McEnroe’s words “he is struggling big-time, physically there is something off because he is not moving well” summed up the Spaniard’s condition in a lop-sided first set.
Nadal roars a strong comeback to win two consecutive sets
The hallmark of a great champion is their ability to rise above the pain and the opponent time and again to script stories of splendid success.
In an incredible display of grit, determination and fabulous ball-striking, Nadal broke Thiem twice in the second set to bring about a turnaround in his fortunes to win the second set 6-4 and in the process, levelled the match at one set apiece.
In the third set, Nadal was broken first and was at the crossroads of losing the third set when he was down 3-5.
But, Spaniard wasn’t willing to give up yet and showed tremendous resilience to win four straight games to snatch Thiem’s set and gained a 2-1 advantage over his opponent and was just a set away from a berth in the semis.
Thiem wasn’t ready to throw in the towel yet
While his sublime tennis and few errors from Thiem helped the Spaniard to gain ascendancy in the match, the Austrian wasn’t ready to throw in the towel yet.
Following an exchange of break of serves, the fourth set went down the wire and two battlers forced a tie-break. Thiem wasn’t ready to throw in the towel yet and won the tie-break 7-4 to push the match into a deciding fifth and final set.
Nadal marginally edges past Thiem
By the time the fifth set began, we had already past the midnight, but none of the players was willing to give an inch and as the match headed into its fifth hour.
The match that promised so much even before it commenced did not disappoint, entertaining us with high-octane tennis and a display of tremendous character from either of the players.
With Nadal and Thiem holding firm, there was no break of serves in the deciding set. While each Grand Slam has its unique and independent ways to resolve the tussle in the fifth set, US Open employs a conventional tie-break at 6-6 in the deciding set as well.
With a forehand winner at 5-5 in the tie-break, Nadal was on the cusp of a glorious victory. With Thiem to serve, Nadal knew the match wasn’t done yet and tried to stay in the point after Thiem served a brilliant, pinpoint accurate out-wide serve.
But, in an attempt to dismantle Nadal’s overhead lob, Thiem succumbed to an unforced error, handing Nadal a memorable win after four hours and 49 minutes of grueling, intense and gripping tennis.
Both the players gave their all, emptied their tanks, but there had to be just one victor as Nadal marginally edged past Thiem 0-6, 6-4, 7-5, 6-7, 7-6 in perhaps what was the best match of the US Open 2018.
With the US Open 2019 set to begin in just two days, can Nadal overcome the young aspirants and his veteran arch-rivals to register his fourth US Open title and 19th Major overall?
The upcoming US Open promises to unveil fascinating stories at the Flushing Meadows.