Tennis has been waiting for Generation Next to step up … and on a tense Wednesday night at Rod Laver Arena it finally happened.
Austrian 26-year-old Dominic Thiem bundled world No.1 Rafael Nadal out of the Australian Open 7-6 (7-3) 7-6 (7-4) 4-6, 7-6 (8-6) with three tiebreakers required to decide who would tackle German 22-year-old Alexander Zverev in Friday’s semi-final.
Thiem harassed an out-of-sorts Nadal from the start and raced to a two-set lead, albeit through tiebreakers.
Despite Nadal hitting back in the third set, the world No.5 kept his nerve to win another enthralling tiebreaker in the fourth set.
“I think it’s first time I’m playing grand slam semi-finals. I’m the older player. New situation,” Thiem said in his post-match interview on court, adding he was looking forward to tackling Zverev.
“We’re great friends. I’m really happy that he plays his first semi-finals. But of course we’re both going to try our best.
“We played twice in French Open already. We know how it is to play against each other in a grand slam … it will be amazing atmosphere. Here is so nice. Can’t wait to be back on Friday.”
The result sets up an intriguing contest between the old guard and the new, with the winner to play either Roger Federer or Novak Djokovic in the final.
“[It’s] just unreal what these guys are doing,’’ Thiem said. ‘‘I think Sasha and me are first in both semi-finals. They’re both in their 15th. Bit of difference … it’s going to be a great show.
“I think I’m looking as much forward to this match in front of TV … it will be huge.”
Earlier, Zverev was unstoppable in besting 2014 champion Stan Wawrinka in four sets 1-6 6-3 6-4 6-2.
Wawrinka, the world No.15, had come out swinging, smashing out the first set in 24 minutes.
Zverev said after the match he was at that point already preparing to “talk to the press why I lost in straight sets’’.
“I was not quite used to his ball because I always played at night, which was much colder and, all of a sudden, his ball was much quicker than the previous matches that I played,” he explained.
Then the gas the 34-year-old Wawrinka expended in his marathon escape against world No.4 Daniil Medvedev ran dry, Zverev lifted, and the German reeled off the last three sets in quick time.
Barty’s ready to serve her way to the title
Australia’s Ashleigh Barty has revealed the motivation behind developing her deadly serve into the most reliable weapon in women’s tennis.
The world No.1 enters Thursday’s Australian Open semi-finals leading her remaining challengers in almost every serving department at Melbourne Park.
Barty tops the four semi-finalists for aces, trailing only Julia Goerges in the entire draw, and has won 80 per cent of her service games.
But it’s her unrivalled 29 break points saved that underlines the Australian’s extraordinary capacity to absorb pressure heading into her semi-final with American 14th seed Sofia Kenin.
And just as the great Serena Williams spent her early years mastering the motion of serving, Barty credits her first coach Jim Joyce for instilling the importance of landing the first blow in rallies.
“It was just a shot that I learned, a shot that Jim taught me and it’s probably the only shot in tennis you have full control over,” Barty told AAP.
It’s changed and developed over time but I as I’ve grown and become a lot stronger, it’s become more of a weapon.
“But it’s something that we work on every day knowing it’s a shot for me that can put me in control of the point.
“And, at times, it’s not as much of a weapon because there are girls out there who are bigger and stronger who can do just as much, if not more, with their serve.
“But, for me, it’s a starting point to try and put me in front in the point.”
Barty’s 73 per cent strike rate in saving break points is the envy of her Melbourne Park rivals.
“It’s nice to know at times that I can rely on that but it’s also nice to know that when my serve is not there that I also have other weapons to help me out.”
Barty has been victorious in four of her five previous encounters with Kenin, including last year’s fourth-round clash at the French Open after the American had dumped Williams from the draw.
“She has a great knack of controlling the court from the centre of the court and being that first-strike player.
“It’s going to be important for me to try and nullify that if I can.”
Fourth-seeded Wimbledon champion Simona Halep will play fellow former world No.1 Garbina Muguruza in Thursday’s second semi-final.
Halep was ruthless in her quarter-final on Wednesday against Estonian Anett Kontaveit, needing just 53 minutes to run out a 6-1 6-1 winner.
The Romanian will take on Spanish star Garbine Muguruza on Thursday at Rod Laver Arena for a place in Saturday’s championship decider.
The 28-year-old lost the 2018 title match at Melbourne Park to Caroline Wozniacki in a three-set heart-breaker but credited that defeat with giving her the belief that she could win grand slams.
“Yeah, I feel like I’m there,” said Halep, who is coached by Australian Darren Cahill. “I felt really, really good on court – I felt like my game was great.
“Perfection doesn’t exist, but I’m very happy with the way I played.”
I have a meme: Rafa’s day ended as it began, held up
Rafael Nada’s untimely exit from the tournament completed a poor day for the world No.1, having earlier in the day being held up by security as he walked through the corridors underneath Melbourne Park without his accreditation.
Quotable quote …
“I made the people of Australia a promise, I will keep that promise if it happens”
– Young Alexander Zverev vows to make good on his pledge to donate his entire prize money of $4.12 million to bushfire relief if he wins the tournament.
Coming up Thursday …
Women semi final, 2pm: 1-A. Barty v S. Kenin-14
Women semi final, 3.30pm: 4-S. Halep v G. Muguruza
Men semi final, 7.30pm: 3-R. Federer v 2-N. Djokovic