January 29, 2020
Dominic Thiem has pulled off a big shock by dumping Rafael Nadal out of the Australian Open.
Now he will face Alexander Zverev in the semi-finals. And that guarantees a new finalist in Melbourne come the weekend.
It also offers evidence that the changing of the guard in men’s tennis has begun.
Few would have backed Thiem to defeat Nadal in a war of attrition. Particularly after Rafa prevailed in their previous Grand Slam meetings.
The Austrian essentially beat Nadal at his own game by often slugging it out from the baseline to win 7-6 (7-3), 7-6 (7-4), 4-6, 7-6 (8-6).
Thiem chose his moments well to move in for the kill. Nadal was unable to emulate his old rival Roger Federer and pull off a great escape when the chips were down.
For the moment Federer remains one Grand Slam ahead of Nadal. Roger edges Rafa 20-19 in total.
If Fed doesn’t lift the Australian title again this year, Nadal can draw level by winning his thirteenth Roland Garros.
The Spaniard did pull a set back against Thiem in Melbourne by going on all-out attack for the last two games of the third.
But the ultimate tennis warrior just couldn’t find the right weaponry in those vital breakers.
And that was strange when you consider that Nadal had won his previous tournament tie-breaks and Dominic had lost his.
The last two years have seen Thiem gradually grow in self-belief.
Now at last he has made the big psychological breakthrough to see off the man who has habitually denied him.
Even so, Thiem still admitted to a moment of understandable mental weakness.
He said: ‘I just wanted to stay in the match at times and then it was special serving for the match against Rafa and for my first semi-final at the Australian Open.
‘It was such a mentally tough situation and I couldn’t handle it! But luckily I turned it around in the breaker.’
Nadal saved the first match points but couldn’t turn the tide.
He said: ‘The tennis wasn’t bad at all but he had a little more determination in some moments.’
Thiem didn’t know how much he would have had left in the tank if he had been denied in the fourth.
Dominic confessed: ‘I was very happy I won the tie-break and didn’t have to do a fifth set.’
Zverev also came through in four sets. Even though he was initially caught cold by Stan Wawrinka.
The young German has crumbled in such situations in the past. But he too is growing in stature and stormed through 1-6, 6-3, 6-4, 6-2.
The recovery was built on an improving serve and the sense within Zverev that his time to make his mark in a Grand Slam had come at last.
The tennis world will be fascinated to see which “next-generation” player will win through to earn the right to play Novak Djokovic or Roger Federer in the final.
Meanwhile, Wimbledon champions Simona Halep and Garbine Muguruza will play a mouthwatering semi-final in the women’s singles tournament.
Reigning Wimbledon champion Halep is probably playing better tennis than any woman right now.
But as we have pointed out in recent days, former Wimbledon champion Garbine Muguruza is back with a bang under the coaching of Conchita Martinez.
We expect Halep to reach the final to play Ashleigh Barty, who might just have what it takes to overcome Sofia Kenin.
But women’s tennis is of course deliciously unpredictable.
And men’s tennis is starting to get that way too. Apart from the supremacy of Novak Djokovic, other all-time-greats are starting to show cracks here and there.