The numbers behind Thiem and Nadal's epic-five set match

Yahoo Sports
It took almost five hours, but <a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/olympics/rio-2016/a/1195086/" data-ylk="slk:Rafael Nadal">Rafael Nadal</a> was able to squeak by Dominic Thiem in five-set thriller at the U.S. Open. (AP Foto/Adam Hunger)
It took almost five hours, but Rafael Nadal was able to squeak by Dominic Thiem in five-set thriller at the U.S. Open. (AP Foto/Adam Hunger)

You’ve probably heard by now that there was a thriller of a match Tuesday night at the US Open.

Austrian Dominic Thiem bageled defending champion Rafael Nadal in the the opening set, before the World No. 1 came back to take the second and third sets 6-4, 7-5. Thiem held his nerve in the fourth set tie-break to send the quarterfinal match-up to a deciding fifth set.

Thiem and Nadal, who played each other earlier this year in the French Open finals, went back and forth before finding themselves in a tie-break. Winner would move on to face No. 3 Juan Martin Del Potro in the semi-finals.

Nadal squeaked out the fifth set tie break and sealed the win. A closer look at the stat sheet will show just how close Thiem was to pulling off the biggest upset of his career.

Total Points vs. The Big Points

Thanks to his first set domination, Thiem actually ended up with a slight edge over Nadal in total points won: 171 to 166. Nadal won only seven points in an eighteen minute first set to Thiem’s 24.

By the second, third and fourth sets though, Nadal found his ground and started pushing Thiem around the court. The Austrian, who was playing in his first U.S. Open quarterfinal, broke three times in the first set, but just three times in the remaining sets. Nadal broke five times

Dominic Thiem cruised in the first set, but Nadal raised his game to take the match in five. (Foto: Jason DeCrow / AP).

Server’s edge

Theim’s serve was one of his most potent weapons of the night. Nadal was able to get a higher percentage of first serves in at 66%, but Thiem won more points when those serves made it in – 71%. In the fifth set at 5-5 and down 0-40, Thiem whacked in three lightning serves – two of them were unreturnable for Nadal in a moment he called “heartbreaking” in the on court post-game interview.

Thiem was able to bail himself out of trouble with his serves, hitting 18 aces to just four double faults. Nadal had four double faults as well but just three aces.

Winner, winner…loser?

Last night rallies went something like this: balls were smacked around the court, often painting the lines, before players would lunge and try to return the ball at ridiculous angles.

Nadal and Thiem combined for 129 winners – Thiem had the edge with 74 to Nadal’s 55. He had slightly more unforced errors at 58-49 but still had a +16 differential. Still it wasn’t enough to win the match – the first match of his career longer than four hours.

Nadal’s one edge…

Net points.

An underrated part of his game, Nadal came to net 56 times and won 36 of the points. Thiem came up far less – just 31 times in the match – but would only win 18 points.

Nadal won’t forget some of the put-aways he should have made, especially the volley he butchered in the fourth set that would have handed him a match point. But he was able to quickly close out points and draw in his opponent who was much less comfortable away from the baseline.

Nadal set up match point with an angled volley followed by a smash cross court and then another short ball that Thiem could just watch fly by.

After, four hours and forty-nine minutes, the other sets and winners and stats wouldn’t matter. Thiem would lose the tiebreak on an overhead he sent long on match point.


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