Alexander Zverev

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Dominic Thiem joins Novak Djokovic in Australian Open final after delays

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Dominic Thiem overcame Alexander Zverev and brief rain and lighting delays to become the first male Australian Open finalist born in the 1990s, setting the stage for a match against Novak Djokovic on Sunday.

The Austrian Thiem dispatched the German Zverev 3-6, 6-4, 7-6 (3), 7-6 (4) in a semifinal between two of tennis’ next-generation stars looking to break up the Djokovic-Rafael NadalRoger Federer grasp on Grand Slam titles dating to the start of 2017.

Zverev dropped two set points on Thiem’s serve in the third frame. Thiem then raced out to early leads in both tiebreaks to win a three-and-a-half-hour semifinal.

Thiem has been the most consistent recent challenger to the Big Three, reaching the last two French Open finals (and losing to 12-time French Open champ Nadal each time). He beat Nadal in a four-hour quarterfinal in Melbourne and didn’t go to bed until 5 a.m. on Thursday.

AUSTRALIAN OPEN DRAWS: Men | Women

Thiem won four of his last five meetings with Djokovic, but three victories came on Thiem’s preferred clay. Thiem did take their last match on an indoor hard court at November’s ATP Finals, rallying from a set down in a best-of-three.

But Djokovic’s most successful stage is Rod Laver Arena. He is 15-0 in semifinals and finals and seeking a record-extending eighth Australian Open crown.

“He’s the king of Australia,” Thiem said of Djokovic. “I’m always facing the kings of this certain Grand Slam in the final.

“If I walk off the court as a loser in two days, I still have to be patient, still have to trust the process.”

Thiem ended a streak just by reaching the final. The last time the Australian Open had a male finalist not born in the 1980s was in 2003, when Andre Agassi earned his last Grand Slam title.

The Australian Open continues Saturday with the women’s final between American Sofia Kenin and Spain’s Garbine Muguruza. It’s the fourth straight women’s Slam final without a top-five-ranked player. Sunday will mark the fifth straight men’s Slam final where both players are ranked in the top five.

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Dominic Thiem upsets Rafael Nadal to reach Australian Open semifinal

Dominic Thiem
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MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — 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 quarterfinal 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.

AUSTRALIAN OPEN DRAWS: Men | Women

It is his Thiem’s first trip to the final four at a Slam somewhere other than at the French Open, the place that is Nadal’s domain.

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.

“He is one of the greatest of all-time, one of this sport’s biggest legends,” the fifth-seeded Thiem said about Nadal.

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 quarterfinals 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 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.

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. And the winner from that match will play the winner of the Federer-Novak Djokovic semifinal.

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.

So instead of Nadal, 33, against Wawrinka, 34, it’ll be Zverev, 22, against Thiem, 26, a couple of members of the new generation trying to collect a breakthrough Slam title.

“I think it’s the first time I am playing a Grand Slam semifinal and I am the older player,” Thiem said with a chuckle.

The first two sets Wednesday sets were remarkably similar: Nadal would go up by a break, then Thiem would break back and take it in a tiebreaker. The first lasted 67 minutes, the second 69.

Nadal was flustered by a warning from chair umpire Aurelie Tourte for a time violation, citing him for taking more than the allotted 25 seconds before serving. Nadal termed the call “amazing,” complaining that the previous point was comprised of an exhausting 19 shots and so the clock shouldn’t have started when it did (something which is at the chair umpire’s discretion).

“You don’t like the good tennis,” he told Tourte. “You don’t like the good tennis.”

Later, he gave Tourte a sarcastic thumb’s up after she told him he hesitated too long before trying to challenge a line call.

Thiem’s biggest hiccups came as the end was near.

There was the break that ceded the third set, the one celebrated so enthusiastically by Nadal.

There was another break when Thiem served for the victory at 5-4 in the fourth but was undone by a series of jitters-induced mistakes. There were three off-the-mark forehands, with a double-fault mixed in for good measure.

“Such a really mentally tough situation,” Thiem said. “Couldn’t handle it.”

Then, on his first match point, at 6-4 in the last tiebreaker, Thiem drove a leaping forehand into the net, then covered his face with his left hand.

His second match point came and went with a lob that landed long.

But Thiem did not fold there, getting a third opportunity to close it with a cross-court backhand that glanced off the tape — one of a handful of favorable net cords for him.

When Nadal missed one last forehand, Thiem looked to the sky and spread his arms wide.

“He played with the right determination,” Nadal said. “Well done for him.”

MEN’S DRAW: Federer fends off seven match points to face Djokovic

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Naomi Osaka, at her most nervous, avoids historic French Open first-round upset

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Naomi Osaka‘s bid for a third straight Grand Slam title nearly vanished in an error-filled French Open first-round escape.

Osaka overcame 90th-ranked Slovakian Anna Karolina Schmiedlova 0-6, 7-6 (4), 6-1, avoiding becoming the second top women’s seed to lose her opening match at Roland Garros in three years.

“The most nervous I have ever been my entire life during a match,” Osaka said, noting it being her first time playing a Grand Slam as the world No. 1 and her first time playing on Court Philippe Chatrier. “I think you could see that in the first set. I was literally not hitting any balls in the court.”

She had more unforced errors (13) than points won (nine) in a 20-minute first set. Schmiedlova served for the match twice in the second set. But Osaka weathered the storm — including a 12-minute, second-set rain delay — to advance to a second-round match with two-time Australian Open champ Victoria Azarenka.

“Usually the nerves go away, but it kind of stayed the entire match,” she said. “Then I just felt like it was a fight of willpower.”

Osaka committed 38 unforced errors to 14 for Schmiedlova, who has lost her last 10 first-round matches at Grand Slams.

Osaka, 21, broke through at last year’s U.S. Open, beating Serena Williams in a memorable final. She backed that up by winning the Australian Open in January to become the first Japanese player to be ranked No. 1. She’s now trying to join Williams as the only women to win three straight majors in the last 21 years.

Osaka carried her best clay-court results to date into Roland Garros — a semifinal and two quarterfinals — though she withdrew from one event with an ab strain and the most recent with a thumb injury. Confidence defined Friday’s pre-tournament press conference, when she said it would be cool to win all four Slams in one year.

“You have to say it for it to come true, and you have to believe it with all of your heart, because if even one percent of you doesn’t believe it, then there is a chance that it won’t come true,” Osaka said.

At the 2017 French Open, Angelique Kerber became the first No. 1 woman to lose in the first round of any Grand Slam since Martina Hingis at 2001 Wimbledon. Then last year, Simona Halep was upset in the U.S. Open first round as the top seed.

FRENCH OPEN: TV Schedule | Scores | Men’s Draw | Women’s Draw

Also Tuesday, Azarenka swept Jelena Ostapenko 6-4, 7-6 (4) in a rare first-round matchup of major champions. The Latvian Ostapenko is 0-3 at the French Open outside of her stunning 2017 run to the title. The No. 3 seed Halep began her title defense with a 6-2, 3-6, 6-1 win over Croatian-born Australian Ajla Tomljanovic.

In men’s singles action, No. 5 Alexander Zverev and No. 8 Juan Martin del Potro rallied for first-round wins.

Zverev, an 11-time ATP tournament winner who has reached just one Grand Slam quarterfinal, needed four hours to overcome Australian John Millman 7-6 (4), 6-3, 2-6, 6-7 (5), 6-3. A year ago in Paris, Zverev needed to win three consecutive matches that went the full five sets to get to his first Grand Slam quarterfinal.

In his first Grand Slam match since fracturing his right kneecap, the Argentine del Potro beat 75th-ranked Nicolas Jarry 3-6, 6-2, 6-1, 6-4 through wind and bits of rain.

Del Potro, the 2009 U.S. Open champion and the runner-up there last year, started poorly in chilly conditions on Court Suzanne Lenglen. The frequently-injured del Potro was a semifinalist at Roland Garros last year.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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