Top seed Nadal upset by Thiem in Australian Open quarter-finals
Loss ends Nadal's career-best streak of making at least the semifinals at 7 consecutive Grand Slams
Outplayed at his own brand of physical tennis for much of the match, Rafael Nadal finally claimed a set to try to start a comeback against Dominic Thiem.
Nadal marked the moment by hopping in a crouch at the baseline and vigorously pumping his right arm four times.
Soon, though, he was back in trouble. And eventually, his bid to tie Roger Federer's record of 20 Grand Slam titles by winning the Australian Open was over with a quarter-final loss Wednesday to Thiem, a younger version of Nadal himself.
Thiem's 7-6 (3), 7-6 (4), 4-6, 7-6 (6) victory over the top-seeded Nadal lasted 4 hours, 10 minutes because of so many lengthy, electrifying points and put him in his fifth major semifinal.
WATCH | Dominic Thiem upends Nadal in marathon thriller:
It is his first somewhere other than at the French Open, the place that is Nadal's domain.
"If you want to have a chance against him, one of the all-time greats, everything needs to work in your game," the fifth-seeded Thiem said.
Of more significance: The outcome ended Nadal's career-best streak of making at least the semifinals at seven consecutive Grand Slam tournaments, a span during which he earned three trophies to narrow his gap with Federer.
The last time Nadal didn't get to the final four at a major? Also at the Australian Open, where he also went out in the quarter-finals two years ago before finishing as the runner-up to Novak Djokovic in 2019.
That was Nadal's fourth defeat in a final at Melbourne Park since he won his lone title at the place in 2009. He's won two at Wimbledon, four at the U.S. Open and 12 at the French Open.
Thiem plays the long game
Asked what he wished he'd done differently against Thiem, Nadal replied: "Win any tiebreak."
Thiem had been 0-5 against Nadal at the majors, including losses in the final at Roland Garros each of the past two years.
But this one was different. The defining statistic: Thiem won exactly twice as many points that featured nine or more shots, 24-12.
"Just an unbelievable match. Like, epic," Thiem said. "A very high level from both of us.
Thiem managed to hang in there with Nadal on physical baseline exchanges, trading groundstroke for groundstroke and picking the proper spots to move forward.
Or to describe it another way: Thiem was out-Nadal-ing Nadal, the ultimate grinder who never met a point that was too long or too grueling.
Now Thiem will play No. 7 Alexander Zverev on Friday for a berth in the title match.
Zverev reached his first major semifinal anywhere by overcoming a terrible start Wednesday and putting together a 1-6, 6-3, 6-4, 6-2 victory over three-time Grand Slam champion Stan Wawrinka.
Halep advances to semis
A pair of two-time major winners will play for a spot in the Australian Open final after No. 4 Simona Halep and unseeded Garbine Muguruza won their quarter-finals in straight sets on Wednesday.
Both have already won Wimbledon and the French Open and are bidding for their first Grand Slam title on a hard court.
Halep has been close before, losing the final in three sets at Melbourne Park to Caroline Wozniacki in 2018.
The 28-year-old Romanian said that tough loss was the main push for her breakthrough win that year at Roland Garros, where she beat Muguruza in the semifinals.
Halep needed only 53 minutes Wednesday to beat first-time major quarterfinalist Kontaveit 6-1, 6-1.
WATCH | Halep crushes Kontaveit:
Muguruza took a little more than 1 ½ hours to eliminated No. 30 Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova 7-5, 6-3, with both players struggling with their serves in the sun. The win earned Muruguza a spot in the semifinals at Melbourne Park for the first time, and her first at any Grand Slam tournament since the French Open in '18.
The loss dropped Pavlyuchenkova to 0-6 in quarter-finals at majors; she has entered 49 Slams without reaching the final four once.
There are three major winners in the last four, with reigning French Open champion Ash Barty playing No. 14 Sofia Kenin in the other women's semifinal Thursday. The top-ranked Barty is trying to end a drought for Australians at home: The last woman to win the singles championship was Chris O'Neil in 1978.
Halep spent her off-season away from home for the first time so she could focus fully on 2020 and her quest for a third major title.
"No days off," Halep said.
Kontaveit held the opening game at love. From then on, it was all one way as Halep went on a relentless, 11-game roll.
Halep worked for every point and only faced one break point, fending it off with a commanding forehand winner.
In the second set, Halep won the longest rally of the match — a 25-shot exchange — and then followed it up immediately with an ace on the way to 5-0 lead.
"I felt great today on court. I feel my game. I feel strong on my legs. I've been focused, every point," Halep said.
"This year I've started very well," she said. "I'm feeling much stronger than before."
Seeded fourth, Halep has advanced to the last four without dropping a set, and said she feels like she's playing her best tennis.