MELBOURNE, Australia
Austria’s Dominic Thiem stunned Rafael Nadal Wednesday to send the world number
one tumbling out of the Australian Open and set up a semi-final against
Alexander Zverev.

The fifth seed, beaten by Nadal in the last two French Open
finals, battled past the Spaniard 7-6 (7/3), 7-6 (7/4), 4-6, 7-6 (8/6) to deny
him a crack at a record-equalling 20th Grand Slam title.

He will now meet German seventh seed Zverev who shattered the
dreams of veteran Stan Wawrinka 1-6, 6-3, 6-4, 6-2 to book a maiden place in a
Grand Slam last four.

Awaiting the winner of that clash will be either seven-time
champion Novak Djokovic or six-time winner Roger Federer, who meet in the other
semi-final.

“All the match was on a very good level, I think we are
both in great form,” said Thiem, only the second Austrian to make the
Melbourne semis after Thomas Muster — the man he sacked this week as an
advisor.

“Today I had the feeling I was lucky in the right
situation … it is necessary because he is one of the greatest of all time.
You need some luck to beat him.”

Top seed Nadal had a 9-4 record over Thiem and had beaten
him in all their five previous Slam meetings.

But the last time they played on hardcourts — at the 2018
US Open quarter-finals — it was a five-set marathon.   

And the signs pointed that way again, with the opening set
on serve to 2-2 before Thiem, gunning for a first Grand Slam title, worked a
break point but couldn’t convert.

Both baseline-huggers, it became a slugfest before Nadal
managed to open some doors on the Thiem serve in game eight and he broke with a
perfect lob from the back of the court.

But Thiem came roaring back, breaking back with a ripping
crosscourt return. He saved a set point to take it to a tie-breaker where he
stunned Nadal to seal a one set lead.

– Famous victory –

Nadal, dripping in sweat on a steamy Melbourne night,
attacked in the second set and Thiem lost his serve to love to go 3-2 behind.

But the Spaniard, the 2009 champion, became riled when
issued with a warning for taking too long to serve and it rattled him, sending
down a double fault as Thiem squared the set at 4-4.

Nadal saved a set point and it went to another tie-break
where Thiem prevailed at the crunch thanks to a lucky net cord.

The third set was similarly tight, with no breaks until
Nadal teased some errors from Thiem as he served to stay in the set, pumping
his fists in celebration.

But when Nadal shanked a forehand in the third game of set
four to be broken the momentum swung back to the Austrian. He lost his nerve
serving for the match at 5-4 before finally getting over the line in a
tie-break for a famous victory.

He now faces Zverev, who bounced back after being demolished
in the first set by 2014 champion Wawrinka to take control and run out a
comfortable winner.

Long touted as one of the next generation capable of
breaking through to end the Grand Slam dominance of Nadal, Federer and
Djokovic, Zverev credited a more relaxed approach for his success in Melbourne.

“I’m doing much more things outside the court,” he
said, adding that after a poor performance at the recent ATP Cup he did not
have high expectations.

“Maybe this is a stepping stone. Maybe this is how it
should happen.”

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