Nadal, Williams reach US Open semis

‘GREAT BATTLE’::Rafael Nadal beat Dominic Thiem after a 4 hour, 49 minute marathon. Serena Williams advanced, but images of her 6-3, 6-3 loss at Wimbledon remained fresh

Reuters, NEW YORK

Thu, Sep 06, 2018 - Page 16

Defending champion Rafael Nadal on Tuesday failed to win a single game in the opening set of his US Open quarter-final against Dominic Thiem, but fought back to beat the Austrian 0-6, 6-4, 7-5, 6-7 (4/7), 7-6 (7/5) in a match that ended after 2am in New York City.

Nadal won 40 percent of his first serves in the opener as he struggled with the high humidity at Arthur Ashe Stadium, with Thiem becoming the first player to “bagel” the Spaniard at Flushing Meadows since Andy Roddick 14 years ago.

“It’s been a great battle,” an exhausted Nadal said. “The conditions were tough, very humid for me.”

Thiem, who lost to Nadal in the French Open final, but had beaten the Spaniard three times in 10 previous meetings, struck 74 winners, including 24 with his stylish single-handed backhand, to keep the champion under constant pressure.

“I’m very sorry for Dominic,” Nadal added. “He’s a close friend on tour, a great guy and I wish him the very best... He is young and has plenty of time to win tournaments.”

After Nadal roared back to take a 2-1 lead, the fourth set went to a tiebreak. Thiem raced to a 3-0 lead before Nadal fought back, but the Austrian held his nerve to level the match.

There were no breaks of serve in the deciding set and a second tiebreak ensued. The two were neck-and-neck at 5-5 when Nadal carved out a match point with his forehand.

Thiem’s wayward overhead smash handed the match to Nadal, who stood midcourt with his head thrown back and arms raised in the air in celebration.

“I’m going to remember this match,” Thiem said. “It’s cruel sometimes, tennis, because I think this match didn’t really deserve a loser. But there has to be one.”

Nadal paid tribute to the crowd for hanging on until the early hours of Wednesday morning.

“Thank you very much, everybody, for staying here tonight,” Nadal said after the marathon of 4 hours, 49 minutes. “It’s been an amazing feeling. I’m playing a lot of hours this year at this beautiful stadium.”

Serena Williams powered her way to within two victories of a seventh US Open title and while she refused to look ahead, there are many willing to do it for her — and what they see is a suddenly open path to a 24th Grand Slam.

“I’d been a couple steps away at the last Grand Slam, so I’m definitely not ahead of myself,” said Williams, the memory of a 6-3, 6-3 loss to Angelique Kerber in the Wimbledon final still fresh.

“I still know that no matter whether I’m in the semi-finals or the finals, I have a really long way to go to win that,” she said. “Again, that proved to be true at Wimbledon.”

Williams has done her part, making her way to the last four with her usual efficiency, while throwing in an occasional wobble just to keep things interesting, but not scary.

Williams has also received help along the way with others bulldozing the route to Saturday’s final clear of some major roadblocks.

When the 36-year-old American first looked at the draw she would have instantly picked out world No. 1 Simona Halep as a potential trouble spot, but even before Williams had hit her first ball, the Romanian was gone, a victim of a first-round upset, eliminating a tricky fourth-round encounter with the French Open champion.

Spain’s double Grand Slam winner Garbine Murgurza was next to go, making a second-round exit, and then earlier on Tuesday, Williams side-stepped a semi-final showdown with third seed Sloane Stephens, when the defending champion was ousted by Anastasija Sevastova.

The 18th seeded Latvian is now the only hurdle standing between Williams and a place in Saturday’s final, where the other side of the draw has also been cleared of potential trouble with 14th seeded American Madison Keys the highest-ranked threat remaining.