Rafael Nadal lost the ground a bit in 2015 after failing to win a Major or a Masters 1000 crown. The Spaniard tried to bounce back in 2016 and suffered a severe loss to Novak Djokovic in Doha. To make things even worse, Nadal suffered a first-round Australian Open loss in a thriller against Fernando Verdasco.
Heading to South America for his beloved clay, Rafa entered the ATP 250 event in Buenos Aires as the defending champion. He faced Dominic Thiem in the semi-final and experienced a tough 6-4, 5-7, 7-6 loss in two hours and 50 minutes after squandering a match point!
Rafa took down his good friend Juan Monaco and Paolo Lorenzi en route to the semi-final, where he faced the young Austrian. Dominic endured all the challenges to prevail and score one of the most notable victories of his young career.
Thiem grabbed five points more than Nadal and produced more efficient numbers behind the second serve. The Austrian saved four out of seven break points and broke Rafa three times from eight opportunities. Nadal gave his best to emerge at the top but missed a match point and experienced another setback.
They had a similar number of winners, and Nadal sprayed more unforced mistakes. The Spaniard forced many errors from the youngster but could not break his resistance in the decider. Thiem had the advantage in the shortest rallies up to four strokes, while nothing separated them in the mid-range exchanges.
The Spaniard built a slight lead in rarely extended points with ten or more strokes, not enough to push him through. Nadal grabbed a break in the encounter’s second game when Thiem sent a backhand long for a perfect start. However, he sprayed a forehand error in the next game to get broken at 15.
Serving at 3-3, Rafa landed a forehand winner to dismiss a break point and held after a service winner. He wasted a break chance in the next game that could have sent him in front. Dominic grabbed a break at 4-4 thanks to Rafa’s backhand error and sealed the set with a service winner in the next one for 6-4.
The Austrian denied a break opportunity in the second set’s second game with an ace. They both served well until 3-3, when Rafa had to play against a break chance. He repelled it with a forehand down the line winner and stayed on the positive side.
Despite a 40-0 lead, Nadal needed two deuces to secure the ninth game and gain a boost. He broke Thiem in the next game to grab the set 6-4 and force a decider, ready to fight until the last point against an inspired opponent.
The final set developed into an open war, and it started with a break for Dominic in the first game thanks to Rafa’s backhand mistake. The Spaniard pulled the break back in game four to level the score at 2-2 and increase the drama.
The defending champion held at love in games three and five. However, Thiem was there to follow his pace, hitting a service winner in the sixth game to lock the result at 3-3. They both held at love in games seven and eight, and Nadal moved 5-4 up when his rival sprayed a forehand error.
The young gun served to stay in the match in game ten, and the nerves started to show up. Thiem faced a match point and fired a valiant forehand winner that got him out of jail. The Austrian brought the game home after five deuces and survived the most demanding challenge to stay alive.
Leaving that game behind, Rafa held at 15 in game 11 and moved in front once again. Dominic served to stay in the match for the second time at 5-6 and produced a hold at love to introduce a tie break, the best possible way to finish this incredible encounter.
The Spaniard opened it with a double fault and found himself 3-0 down after the Austrian’s ace. Thiem clinched another mini-break for 4-1 and earned five match points with a smash winner at 5-1. Rafa erased the first three before Dominic converted the fourth to take the breaker 7-4 and celebrate one of the most notable victories of his young career.