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By Richard Pagliaro | Friday, January 5, 2024


Jordan Thompson saved three match points sparking a 5-7, 7-6(6), 6-3 comeback conquest of Rafael Nadal to reach his first hard-court semifinal in Brisbane.

Photo credit: Chris Hyde/Getty

The blue Brisbane court is a bright stage for Rafael Nadal’s compelling comeback.

Tonight, Aussie Jordan Thompson upstaged uplifting Rafa revival with a rousing return of his own.

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Home hero Thompson showed guts and strong legs saving three match points in the second set sparking a 5-7, 7-6(6), 6-3 comeback conquest of Nadal to reach his first hard-court semifinal at the Brisbane International.

The 37-year-old Spanish superstar put himself in position close, including taking a 6-4 lead in the tiebreaker and missing a good look at his favored forehand on his second match point.

"Tired, of course. Sad in this moment because I had plenty of opportunities," Nadal told the media in Brisbane. "But I think he played a good match. For me, even that was not the best match, I had a lot of opportunities to win it, so...

"That's it, no? Need to accept all these kind of stuff. After a year, that's normal that things happens. As I say every day: every day is a different story, and things are difficult after such a long time.

"Today the opponent play well. Made me play one more ball. I didn't play bad, but I was just one ball away."

In the end, Nadal had bigger concerns than shaking off rust and squandering three match points in just his third match in the past 12 months.

Former world No. 1. Nadal left the court down 1-4 in the final set to take treatment for apparent hip pain.

Was it typical soreness that a 37-year-old champion contesting his 1,291st career singles match should expect? Or was the hip Nadal had surgically repaired last June a sign of greater stress with the Australian Open looming on January 14th.

This dramatic three hour, 25-minute drama ended with the longest point of the match. Thompson withstood a punishing 35-shot rally that spanned several courts and featured a couple of sudden eruptions from a nearby train horn. It all climaxed when Nadal narrowly missed a backhand down the line to end a wild and adventurous quarterfinal.

“You guys got me through that was something special,” Thompson told fans afterward. “I mean, I think that train needed some WD 40 the whole match, put us off a bit, and then the honking at the end. Too big of a point not to concentrate.

“I completely forgot I saved match points. To beat Rafa at home in Brisbane and this is my first semifinal on a hard court as well, I couldn’t be happier….I think if I had lost that match point at the end, I would have been cooked for the rest of the match.”

The victory vaults Thompson into Saturday’s semifinals against Grigor Dimitrov—and raises questions about Nadal’s health and fitness for the Australia Open, a year after he hobbled out of Melbourne on that creaky hip after losing to American Mackenzie McDonald.

Earlier, the second-seeded Dimitrov defeated Aussie wild card Rinky Hijikata 6-1, 6-4.

The 2017 champion Dimitrov scored his record-extending 21st career win in Brisbane and is the only former Brisbane champion still standing among the final four.

Tonight, world No. 55 Thompson denied match point at 4-5 then staved off successive match points at 4-6 and 5-6 of the second-set tiebreaker snatching the set and showing his stamina to fight through the third.

Contesting his first quarterfinal since the 2022 Wimbledon, Nadal played with assertive ambition for much of the first two sets, but could not land the closing strike. Thompson denied Nadal’s bid for a 178th career semifinal.

Asked to assess his hip issue after the match, Nadal said initially it felt more like a sore muscle than a hip tendon problem. 

"Is a very similar place to what happened last year, but different stuff, no? I feel more muscle," Nadal said in his post-match presser. "Last year was tendon. I feel the muscle tired. I mean, for sure is not the same like last year at all because when it happened last year, I felt something drastic immediately.

"Today I didn't feel anything. The only problem is because the place is the same, you are a little bit more scared than usual. In ideal world, I mean, is just the muscle supercharged after a few days of effort and a very tough match.

"That's will be the ideal thing, something that we know that can happen today. That is why I'm talking all the time that my goal is to try to be competitive in a few months."

Playing just his third match since undergoing hip surgery last June, Nadal landed 12 consecutive first serves to start the match.

Credit Thompson, who opened his season partnering compatriot Max Purcell to beat Nadal and his coach, Marc Lopez, in Brisbane doubles, for delivering a high-quality match today. Thompson earned the first break of the match rushing Nadal into a muffed pass to break for 4-3.

Shaking it off, Nadal broke right back for 4-all.

The bearded Aussie cut through his first love hold to level after 10 games.

Torching and ace down the T helped Nadal rally from 15-30 to hold firm for 6-5.

Altering the height of his drives, Nadal followed a loopy topspin lob with off-pace slithering slice drawing the error for triple set point.

On the second set point, Thompson netted a backhand. Nadal snatched a physical first set, 7-5, in 71 minutes, grabbed his bag and headed for the bathroom and a clothing change.

Eighty-eight minutes into the match, stress spiked as Nadal faced the first break point of the second set.

The wild card responded battering a backhand approach down the line, to save break point and leave a winded Thompson dropping to a squat trying to catch his breath. Nadal held for 2-1.

That stirring stand fired up Nadal, who was jerking Thompson side-to-side rattling out double-break point. Thompson carved out an audacious drop shot winner to save the second break point eliciting applause from Nadal.

After giving the Aussie a hand, Nadal gave him the runaround transitioning from defense to offense with some dancing topspin forehands to earn a third break point. Thompson reset quickly and raked a forehand winner down the line denying break point No. 3 to help him hold for 2-all.

Deadlocked at 4-all, Nadal elevated.

Soaring for a sky hook smash, Nadal drove a forehand dart down the line, slid his sixth ace then showed spring in his 37-year-old legs. Quick off the mark, Nadal ran down a dropper and sifted a sweet angled backhand pass closing a spectacular love hold.

A vintage Rafa game put the Spanish superstar ahead 5-4 after two hours of play. That game, one of Nadal's most dynamic of the match, put him in position to close.

From love-30 down, Nadal fired back to gain match point and was poised for his first semifinal since 2022 Wimbledon.

Thompson wasn’t done.

Looping a lob to send Thompson scurrying back to the baseline, Nadal was in a winning position but nudged a challenging high backhand volley into net. Thompson did not blink belting a serve winner down the middle to hold for 5-5.

Deadlocked at deuce in the 11th game, Nadal’s backhand saved him from a return onslaught. Dashing right, Nadal was on the defensive when he flicked a sharp-angled running backhand pass for ad-in. Another backhand dig fended off a crackling return as Nadal held for 6-5.

In the tiebreaker, Nadal flicked a full-stretch forehand return down the line followed by a slashing forehand pass down the line going up a double mini break at 3-0.

Thompson’s sharp returns rushed errors to get back on serve 2-3. Dodging a bullet when Nadal missed a forehand, Thompson leveled 3-3 as the pair shifted sides.

Moving forward, Nadal kissed the sideline with a fine forehand volley earning two more match points at 6-4.

Again, Thompson bounded back from the brink, with a little help.

On his second match point, Nadal lined up his favored forehand, but showed the rust and nerves spraying it wide.

Taking his time before match point No. 3, Nadal played the body serve only to see Thompson fight it off and smack a forehand down the line fighting off a third match point for 6-6.

Going nose-to-nose at net, Thompson showed fast hands poking a lunging forehand volley past Nadal for his first set point at 7-6.

In an electric corner-to-corner point, Thompson wound up and splashed a bounce smash right off the baseline to end a wild comeback waving his arms to screaming fans.

Thompson fought off three match points in the set, winning four points in a row to force a final set after two hours, 35 minutes.

Empowered by his multiple masterful escape acts in the second set, Thompson drew first blood in the third set.

When Nadal missed a finishing forehand off net it opened the door and the Aussie charged through. Thompson banged a backhand return winner down the line for break point. Forcing the former No. 1 to defend a high topspin drive, Thompson swooped forward for a forehand drive volley breaking for 3-1.

An energized Thompson looked fresher firing an ace en route to backing up the break for 4-1 after three hours, two minutes.

At that point, Nadal left the court for a medical timeout for apparent treatment of his hip.

The two-time Australian Open champion returned to play at three hours, eight minutes. Nadal pumped an ace to stamp a strong service game for 2-4.

Serving for the semifinal at 5-3, Thompson saw Nadal nail a backhand pass to open. Down 15-30, Thompson attacked with a forehand drive volley then celebrated a netted Nadal forehand with loud “come on!” with match point of his own.

Running through a swirl of Nadal's topspin shots, a curtain of stress and the sudden shriek of the train horn blaring, Thompson handled it all sealing one of the best wins of his career.

Nadal is hopeful the hip pain is muscle soreness; he'll have a better idea of how he feels in the morning.

"A lot of things can be happening in a body like my body after a year without playing tennis," Nadal said. "So hopefully is just that, just a muscle that is supercharged. Is a normal process on that. If that's the thing, thing everything perfect.

"As I said, I didn't came here to win tournaments now, no? I just came here to try to come back and do it in a positive way. It was a very positive way. Then let's see. I really hope if the feeling on that leg is better and better tomorrow and after tomorrow, then it's perfect news. If not, as I said, we're going to do test and let's see."


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