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Rafael Nadal Loses To Dominic Thiem In 4 Sets And 3 Tiebreakers In Australia Tennis • Now In Semis

By Alix Ramsay

The tattoo artists of Melbourne are on standby. If Dominic Thiem wins the Norman Brookes trophy on Sunday night (and he is only in the semi-finals so far), those needle men (and women) could have a very special customer.

Every since Thiem started winning big titles and taking down big names, his mother, Karin, has been collecting tats. When her son wins a title, she gets inked. It began in Indian Wells last year (she celebrated with an eagle feather emblem), she continued with Beijing (a panda) and if Domi wins in Australia, she is getting a kangaroo.

And after the way that he took out Rafael Nadal 7-6, 7-6, 4-6, 7-6 on Wednesday in four hours and 10 minutes of bludgeoning force, no one is counting Thiem out.

At 26, Thiem is the oldest of the young boys; the leader of the in-between generation. His talent has never been in doubt and neither has his work ethic. His willingness to work harder, train longer and push himself further was the stuff of legend (just look at his nether regions: his rear end is so large you could rest a pint of Guinness on it. And that is where so much of his power comes from) but for a while it seemed as if all there was to the Austrian was hard work and solid – but not stellar – results. And then Thiem kicked over the traces.

For a lifetime, he had been coached by Günter Bresnik. Man and boy, Thiem had followed his countryman’s advice and it had earned him a place in the world’s top 10 and one appearance in the French Open final. But he wanted more. He needed to make a change so he split from Bresnik and hired Nicolas Massu, Chile’s Olympic gold medallist and the man they used to call El Vampiro. The results were instant.

Suddenly there was a new edge to Thiem on and off the court. Sure, he is still a beautifully mannered gentleman but these days, no one pushes Domi around anymore. Within weeks of signing Massu, Thiem had won his first Masters 1000 and on a hard court to boot. The clay courter beat Roger Federer to win in Indian Wells and as he pointed out then, he knew how to play on more than the red dirt of Europe. He could be a threat to anyone anywhere.

Of course, clay is still Thiem’s favourite surface and, last summer, for the second year running, he made his way to the Roland Garros final. And for the second year running, he took a cuffing from Nadal. Not that there is any disgrace in that – in Paris, everyone had been taking a cuffing from Nadal since 2005. But take the Spaniard away from his Roland Garros comfort zone and Thiem clearly believes he has the beating of him.

In each of the first two sets, Nadal took the lead; he looked to be taking charge. And then Thiem snatched the breaks back again, surged into the tiebreak and claimed the set. Two sets to the good and on level terms in the third set, it just seemed to be a matter of time before he would be serving for a place in the semi-final. That was when Nadal struck back and Thiem showed a momentary sign of weakness. As the Austrian made a couple of errors, Nadal pounced and the third set was his. Game on.

Nadal had won nine of their previous 13 encounters coming into Wednesday’s quarter-final. Thiem’s four victories had all come on clay but he had never managed to score a win over the Spaniard at a grand slam. For a few minutes, it looked as if all that history was weighing heavy on Thiem’s shoulders and as the fourth set began, the younger man suddenly looked tired. All that work, all that sweat and Nadal had whipped back the momentum in a couple of games.

But the reborn Austrian did not take long to hit the reset button and clear his mind of all negative thoughts. He had got this far by jumping on any opportunity, by attacking with blood curdling aggression whenever he could; the only way he was going to win was to stick to the game plan and see how far it took him. And with that thought, he grabbed the early break and snuffed out the small sparks of a Nadal comeback. Or so he thought.

No matter what the situation, no matter how dire it seems, Nadal is relentless. He knows from experience what it feels like to serve out the biggest matches for the biggest prizes so he made Thiem work for his win.

The Austrian went to serve for the match at 5-4 and was broken thanks to a handful of forehand fluffs and a double fault. He hung on to reach the tiebreak; he had two match points at 6-4 and missed them both. But he was not be denied a third time and as one of his trademark backhands brought up that third chance, his place in the semi-final was secured when Nadal put a final forehand into the net.

“I was really was holding my serve great and then it came to 5-4,” Thiem said. “It was a special situation for me, serving for the match against Rafa for my first semi-finals here at the Australian Open and such a mentally tough situation and I couldn’t handle it. But I turned around again in the tiebreak.

“There were a little bit demons in the head. Everybody has it. I was just rushing too much, changing a little bit the tactics from all the match and that was wrong. And, of course, it’s tough to handle when all of a sudden it’s 5-5 against Rafa so the match starts from zero again. But that’s tennis. You have to deal with those situations almost every single game so I’m very happy I won the tiebreak.”

He is also very happy that he now faces his friend Sascha Zverev for his ticket to the final. He has beaten the German six times in eight meetings including twice at Roland Garros so he knows what it feels like to play his mate at a grand slam. He also knows what it feels like to contest a major semi-final – he has been in four consecutive semis at the French. By contrast, this is Zverev’s first grand slam semi-final appearance.

“I think it’s the first time I’m playing a grand slam semi-final and I’m the older player,” he said with a smile. “New situation. But we are great friends. I’m really happy that he plays his first semi-finals but of course we both going to try our best. We’ve played twice in the French Open so we know how it is to play each other in a grand slam but it’s going to be an amazing atmosphere here.”

And it’s going to be hotting up in the tattoo parlours of Melbourne, too. Domi is on a roll and that means Karin is on her way.


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