U.S. Open champion Rafael Nadal overcame a rare bagel and a relentless challenge from Dominic Thiem in an epic five-set quarterfinal clash lasting almost five hours in New York.
The world No. 1 had lost a set 6-0 at a Grand Slam on only three previous occasions — the 2015 Australian Open, 2006 Wimbledon and the 2004 U.S. Open. That changed against the ninth-seeded Thiem in the opening set Tuesday.
But in a titanic battle worthy of a final, with stunning winners on both rackets and breathtaking defense, the top-seeded Nadal rallied to outlast Thiem, 0-6, 6-4, 7-5, 6-7 (4-7), 7-6 (7-5), in the longest match of this year’s tournament — four hours and 49 minutes.
The clock ticked past 2 a.m. at Arthur Ashe Stadium, where fans stood on their feet and applauded every point as 17-time major champion Nadal surpassed his four hour and 23-minute contest with Karen Khachanov in round three to earn a semifinal showdown with Juan Martin del Potro.
In 4 hours and 49 minutes, @RafaelNadal defeats Thiem 0-6, 6-4, 7-5, 6-7, 7-6 at 2:04am!#USOpen pic.twitter.com/eHYr2rZy3Y
— US Open Tennis (@usopen) September 5, 2018
Nadal was completely dismantled by Thiem in the first set as the American crowd was shocked into silence in New York, the Austrian hitting vaporizing forehands and backhands to wrap up the opener in just 24 minutes — tallying 13 winners, five aces and 24 points in total compared to just seven from the former.
Nadal, facing his fellow seed away from clay for the first time after 10 previous meeting, was 30-29 when losing the first set at a major, but he rediscovered his best form to level the match, rising to the challenge by converting both break-point chances — having earned none in the first set — to halt the red-hot Thiem.
It was a grueling and see-sawing battle in the third, but Nadal continued his comeback to take a two-sets-to-one lead, having been down a break at 5-4.
Thiem — with his girlfriend and fellow tennis player Kristina Mladenovic watching from the stands where Hollywood star Ben Stiller was also present — played well, however, Nadal was just too good as he executed the third of three set points on his opponent’s serve to claim the momentum.
Thiem served for a two-sets-to-one lead, but Nadal battles back, firing a forehand winner to take a 0-6, 6-4, 7-5 advantage.
Can the force a decider? #USOpen pic.twitter.com/M9XMubr17e
— ATP World Tour (@ATPWorldTour) September 5, 2018
Most players would have been left deflated after falling behind in such a manner, but Thiem was not in that category—– the former world No. 4 raising his game another level to take out the tie-break, having surrendered 3-1 and 4-2 leads against Nadal, who saved six break points in the set.
The marathon tussle continued in the fifth and final set, Thiem fending off a triple break point by coming from love-40 down to make Nadal serve to stay in the championship and three-time U.S. Open winner did before prevailing in a do-or-die tie-breaker.
Nadal  bt Thiem  0-6 6-4 7-5 6-7 (4-7) 7-6 (7-5)
Nadal – 55/49
Thiem – 74/57
Nadal – 3/4
Thiem – 18/4
BREAK POINTS WON
Nadal – 5/17
Thiem – 6/13
FIRST SERVE PERCENTAGE
Nadal – 66
Thiem – 57
PERCENTAGE OF POINTS WON ON FIRST/SECOND SERVE
Nadal – 67/56
Thiem – 72/56
Nadal – 165
Thiem – 171