Alex de Minaur’s breakout US Open campaign has come a shuddering halt with a straight-sets quarter-final defeat at the hands of Austrian title favourite Dominic Thiem.
Thiem needed just over two hours to send Australia’s last hope packing with a 6-2 6-1 6-4 victory that further underlined the 27-year-old’s championship credentials.
Runner-up to Novak Djokovic in a controversial five-set Australian Open final in January, world No.3 Thiem is the highest-ranked player left in the draw.
Thiem has also appeared in two French Open finals and, with no Rafael Nadal or Novak Djokovic standing in his way, will feel now is the time to claim his maiden grand slam title and announce his arrival as a leading figure as the “big three” of Nadal, Djokovic and Roger Federer finally loosen their grip on the majors.
He next faces Russian third seed and 2019 finalist Daniil Medvedev on Saturday for a place in the final for the first time at Flushing Meadows.
De Minaur will be disappointed with his first grand slam quarter-final appearance but must now turn his attention to the second major of the year, the rescheduled French Open starting on September 27.
The 21-year-old will be Australia’s best hope on the Roland Garros clay after women’s world No.1 Ashleigh Barty this week opted against defending her crown during the coronavirus pandemic.
De Minaur is projected to rise one spot in the rankings to world No.27 after bettering his career-best grand slam run by one round in New York.
He had hoped to go toe-to-toe with Thiem – and at times he did – but the baseline slugger and dual French Open finalist was too solid.
De Minaur was competitive early on, the pair trading three service breaks in the opening four games.
But he blew a golden opportunity to stay in the first set after allowing Thiem to hold from love-40 and surge ahead 4-1.
A third break secured Thiem the set before concerning cracks appeared in de Minaur’s armour.
At 2-2 at 40-0 up in the second set, he dropped serve with two double-faults, then coughed up another double to slump behind 5-2.
No way out of that hole, de Minaur conceded six successive games as Thiem seized total command.
The never-say-die Australian No.1 made one last stand, breaking Thiem for a third time to level the third set at 4-4.
But the world No.3 struck back with a seventh service break of his own to comfortably progress to his sixth grand slam semi-final.
Earlier, Medvedev continued his march towards a maiden grand slam title as he returned to the US Open semi-finals with a clinical victory over childhood friend Andrey Rublev.
In the first all-Russian quarter-final at a grand slam since Roland Garros in 2007, Medvedev showed no hesitation during a ruthless, controlled 7-6 (8-6) 6-3 7-6 (7-5) display that sent him through to the last four without dropping a set.
He has not even dropped his serve in his five matches to date and did not face a break point in dispatching Rublev.
No player in the Open Era has won the New York major without dropping a set.
With Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal missing, and top seed Novak Djokovic having been disqualified for hitting a line judge with a ball, Medvedev showed why he is now the bookmakers’ favourite.
The third seed never gave Rublev a break chance in the entire match while hammering down 16 aces.
Medvedev also produced more than twice as many winners, 51-23.
He took a medical timeout in the third set to have a trainer massage his shoulder and he dealth with cramp but that was the only sign of any weakness in his game.
“It was tough and that was why maybe for the first time in almost a year I celebrated my win,” Medvedev, who let out a roar upon completing his win, said.
“I felt like I could get in trouble so I was really happy to get the win in the tiebreaker.
“One point decided two sets so it was a tough match and Andrey was playing unbelievable.”
The only other issue for Medvedev came in the opening set tiebreak when the match was briefly delayed by an electrical fault.
Medvedev, who lost an epic five-setter to Nadal in last year’s final, will play second-seeded Austrian Dominic Thiem or Australian 21st seed Alex de Minaur on Friday for a spot in the decider.
The other men’s semi-final will pit German fifth seed Alexander Zverev against 20th-seeded Spaniard Pablo Carreno Busta.
None of the remaining men in the draw have won a grand slam.