The marathon tussle continued in the fifth and final set, Thiem fending off a triple break point by coming from love-40 down to make Nadal serve to stay in the championship and three-time US Open victor did before prevailing in a do-or-die tie-breaker.
He didn't cast his eyes toward the support team in his box, or send his racquets out to be restrung.
"The match was special for its different phases", Nadal said afterwards. "Not insane, but tough", Nadal said. "I needed to move forward, to change that dynamic, and I did".
The match, which carried on until after 2 a.m. before ending 0-6 6-4 7-5 6-7 (4-7) 7-6 (7-5), was Nadal's longest at the U.S. Open.
"In the first set I only won seven points, I hadn't started and it could've been very unpleasant". That's one more today.
Nadal trailed by a break in the third set before taking it.
"I just said "I am very sorry. He is young and has plenty of time to win tournaments". The quarterfinal exit marks the deepest run Thiem has made at a major other than Roland Garros. "He's a fighter, he has a great attitude".
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Remarkably, Thiem was the first top-20 player Nadal has faced at Flushing Meadows since his final win over Novak Djokovic in 2013.
"It's going to be stuck in my mind", he said. "Tennis is cruel sometimes because I think this match didn't really deserve a loser. But there has to be one".
For the finals of the U.S. Open to Nadal, being the primary racket of the world, will compete with Argentine Juan Martin del Potro, sown by the third quantity. Thiem, energized after extending the match, held serve to start the set, while Nadal had brushed off the signs of discouragement from the end of the fourth.
Nadal was completely dismantled by Thiem in the first set as the American crowd was shocked into silence in NY, the Austrian hitting vaporising forehands and backhands to wrap up the opener in just 24 minutes - tallying 13 winners, five aces and 24 points in total compared to just seven from the former. Thiem collected 24 of the opening set's 31 points, thanks in large part to a 13-3 edge in winners.
"I am the guy to look at myself". But when he came out to serve for the set at 5-4, the Austrian was visibly hesitant, Nadal bounded behind the baseline.
Nadal won the third set 7-5, and seemed to be on the verge of winning the fourth.
"Dominic is an exemplary player on the circuit, and when you get to 5-5 in the fifth set, the tie-break is really on the toss of a coin".
Del Potro's victory was no walk in the park either, the Argentinian battling through strength-sapping heat and humidity to win 6-7 (5/7) 6-3 7-6 (7/4) 6-2.