The world number one lost the first set 0-6 against ninth seed Dominic Thiem, but fought back in true Rafa style
Rafael Nadal recovered from a first-set ‘bagel’ to defeat Dominic Thiem and reach the US Open semi-finals following another late-night classic in New York.
Twenty-four hours after Roger Federer fell to John Millman, his old rival avoided following him out of the tournament, but only just.
World number one Nadal beat the ninth seed in a marathon five-setter, completing a 0-6 6-4 7-5 6-7 (4/7) 7-6 (7/5) victory at 2.03am.
Austrian Thiem became the first player since Andy Roddick in 2004 to win a love set against Nadal in New York, but the defending champion once again dug deep to come out on top of a gruelling battle played in more punishing humidity.
Nadal will now face third seed Juan Martin del Potro, who defeated John Isner, in a repeat of last year’s semi-final.
Thiem is the only man to beat Nadal on clay for the last two seasons, and he set about showing his opponent he meant serious business in his first grand slam quarter-final outside of the French Open.
The Austrian blasted 13 winners, made only two unforced errors and allowed Nadal just seven points in winning an extraordinary opening set.
It was only the fourth time in his long grand slam history that Nadal had lost a set 6-0 and just the third time at any level in nearly seven years. But the last time, against Philipp Kohlschreiber in Miami last spring, he fought back to win the match.
Rafa roared straight back, clinching the second and third sets with one break in each before Thiem then regrouped and won a crazy 81-minute fourth via a tie-break.
It was wild tennis – starting with Thiem facing break points and then threatening a double break, before being pegged back, and then a weary Nadal missing a chance to win the match.
Thiem held on for the tie-break, where another unexpected Nadal error sent the match into a deciding set.
With the clock ticking towards 1am and transport options dwindling, many fans headed for the exits while the two adversaries battled on.
Having looked the more weary of the two, it was Nadal who was applying the greater pressure and at 5-5, 0-40 it seemed this was his chance. But Thiem saved all three break points before denying Nadal a fourth opportunity with a stunning volley at the end of a remarkable point.
That they were still able to produce tennis of such quality was astonishing. There was no let-up in the tie-break and, after four hours and 49 minutes, it was Nadal who claimed victory when Thiem sent a smash long.
The Austrian hung his head before being consoled by Nadal who then held his arms aloft in celebration and relief.