Rafa and Thiem: 4 hours and 49 minutes in the Twilight Zone
2:56 PM
Art Spander in Dominic Thiem, Rafael Nadal, U.S. Open, articles, tennis

By Art Spander

NEW YORK — The Yankees game against the A’s had ended about 45 minutes earlier. And that was in Oakland.

In New York, three time zones — and one twilight zone — to the east, they were still playing tennis.

Well, Rafael Nadal and Dominic Thiem were still playing tennis. You’ve heard of breakfast at Wimbledon. This was insomnia at Flushing Meadows.

Nadal, 32, the world's No. 1, would win, defeating Thiem, who is a solid No. 9, in a bizarre five-set quarterfinal, 0-6, 6-4, 7-5, 6-7, 7-6 (5), on Tuesday evening. Actually, on Wednesday morning, since the final point was at 2:03 a.m.

Nadal was resilient. So, too, were the fans at Arthur Ashe Stadium who stayed until the end.

You know the line from that Kander and Ebb song, popularized by the great Frank Sinatra, about waking up in the city that never sleeps. How about holding America’s tennis championship, the U.S. Open, in the wee small hours — to quote another song by Sinatra?

Officials and ESPN, which to its credit stayed with the match the full 4 hours and 49 minutes, love these late matches, as much for the attention as anything. Let’s see what’s on the tube. Oh, yeah, another John Wayne rerun. And, what’s this, a Rafael Nadal forehand?

Weary and sweaty — it was in the high 70s when the match started and headed back to the 90s Wednesday afternoon — Nadal, in a sleeveless shirt, stretched his arms at 90-degree angles in triumph. If some saw a religious connotation, that’s their choice.

Nadal’s choice is to play quicker. Then again, he was the one who staggered through the first set, which he “bageled,” to use the pros' term, a big zero, 6-0 for Thiem.

“After the first set,” Nadal said, “the match became normal.”

Not that there’s anything in sports happening after midnight to which the word “normal” can be applied.

When Nadal was told that besides his 17 Grand Slams, second to the 20 of Roger Federer — who didn’t win his late-night match Monday — the after-dark match would be another sort of record. His response was what one might expect at that hour, a smile.

“What is important about this match is the level of tennis,” he said, “the drama. When the things happen like this, the atmosphere and the crowd become more special. People get involved.

“Yeah, it has been great match, great atmosphere. Happy to be part of it. Not because it’s 3 in the morning (when he did his interview), I am happy about the ending.”

Thiem, a 25-year-old Austrian (yes, as in The Sound of Music and skiing), was not that unhappy. He went against one of the best and only lost in a fifth-set tiebreak.

“My earliest memory of Rafa,” said Thiem, “was when he beat Roger (Federer) in the French semis in 2005, I was 11 back then. Didn’t really think that I would also play him one day, but it’s very nice.”

Nadal’s win was not unappreciated by the tennis people. The Open is a one-of-a-kind event, with the late matches, the party atmosphere, the huge crowds that some days surpass 70,000.

The Open is New York in the extreme. Still, the top names — Serena Williams, Novak Djokovic, Federer and Nadal — are necessary for TV ratings and headlines.

The Yankees, the most important team in this town, are trying to get to the postseason. The New York football Giants and the rest of the NFL teams are about to start the season. There’s only so much space in the papers — the Post had a full story on Nadal-Thiem Wednesday morning — so second-raters get squeezed out.

Nadal, on the A-list, fortunately, squeezed in.

“I played a lot of long and tough matches in my career,” said Nadal. “This is one more. I like this feeling, but at the same time you feel tired. I lost at Wimbledon in a match like this. Today was for me.

“It’s just that someone has to lose. That’s part of the game. But personal satisfaction, when you give everything and you play with the right attitude, is the same ... Tennis is not forever, but you know the chances to play these kind of matches every time are less and less.”

He had the chance and did something with it.

Article originally appeared on Art Spander (http://artspander.com/).
See website for complete article licensing information.