The defending champion and No. 1 seed at Flushing Meadows recovered from his disastrous start and other stumbles along the way to beat No. 9 Dominic Thiem 0-6, 6-4, 7-5, 6-7 (4), 7-6 (5) for a semifinal berth at a third consecutive Grand Slam tournament, winning a physical, back-and-forth tussle that concluded after 2 a.m. on Wednesday.
On another hot and humid night in NY, this one was never easy: Nadal trailed by a break in the third set before taking it.
The two players met in the semis at last year's U.S. Open, a match Nadal won in four sets. "It was a real battle".
"I already played under worse conditions". For me it was...
"Yeah, it's going to be stuck in my mind forever", Thiem said after the match.
The fourth set was a wild 81-minute ride that began with Thiem facing break points, saw the Austrian threaten a double break before being pegged back and then a tired Nadal miss a chance to win the match. It's cruel sometimes tennis, because I think this match didn't really deserve a loser. "I don't think he's really sorry", said the 25-year-old.
Nadal could easily have wrapped it up in the fourth set and missed five break points in the decider, but found a way to take one last opportunity against Thiem and his flowing single handed backhand. It was only the third time in the Open era that a men's No. 1 seed won a match after being bageled in the opening set.
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Nadal seemed to be on the verge of cracking the code when he broke back in the fourth and came within two points of winning the match. The way it ended up in the fifth set tiebreaker, from there it's 50-50. "Me, too. I fought until the end. That's one more today", he said after his 0-6, 6-4, 7-5, 6-7 (4/7), 7-6 (7/5) win. "The only thing which was uncomfortable was the sweating I couldn't run any more in the fourth set because the shoes were completely wet", Thiem said. The only thing I was thinking is finish this first and just try to forget about this start and stay in the match in the second. "I like this feeling, but at the same time you feel exhausted after that", Nadal said.
When is Rafael Nadal vs Dominic Thiem on and what time does it start?
The Argentine sent down nine aces and 33 winners to seal a one-sided victory over the 20th seed in just over two hours, with Coric making 30 unforced errors to undermine his own cause. "I'm sure he will have his chances in the future".
Nadal said he had told Thiem he was sorry for the result although the Austrian laughed off that consolation from his close friend.
Rafael will play Juan Martin del Potro, the 2009 champion, in Friday's semi-finals.
The tired combatants held serve throughout the fifth - including one triple break point for Nadal - into another tiebreak.
As Thiem hung his head, Nadal walked round the net to embrace his opponent, telling him he was sorry.