MELBOURNE                -           Dominic Thiem ended six years of Grand Slam frustration against Rafa Nadal on Wednesday with a seismic 7-6(3) 7-6(4) 4-6 7-6(6) upset that booked his maiden Australian Open semi-final and rocked the old guard of men’s tennis.

After pulling off a nerve-shredding win that quashed doubts about his prowess on hardcourts, the 26-year-old Austrian will face Alexander Zverev for a place in the final, a match-up scarcely imaginable at the start of the tournament. Fifth seed Thiem will head into Friday’s clash against the young German brimming with confidence, having ended top seed Nadal’s bid for a record-equalling 20th Grand Slam title, despite a few wobbles on the way to victory.

The net cord was decisively in Thiem’s corner. He clipped it with a backhand winner that secured the final match point. Nadal had his chances. He failed to convert set point when serving for the opening frame and let Thiem off the hook again when 4-2 up in the second. After wrenching the momentum from the Austrian with a brave third set rally, Nadal gave it right back, squandering three break points early in the fourth set and then promptly dropping serve.

The Mallorcan has overcome bigger problems in a long and brilliant career, so there was never any danger he would ever go quietly. He scrapped deep into the set and the pressure finally told on Thiem, who crumbled when serving for the match at 5-4. Thudding into the net after a double-fault, Thiem handed the break back to Nadal with a wild forehand.

But for once the indefatigable Spaniard was unable to make Thiem pay. Even when Thiem took a tumble mid-rally during the final tiebreak, he scrambled to his feet to take a 5-2 lead when Nadal punched a backhand into the tramlines. On the first match point, Thiem wound up his forehand for a killer blow but bashed straight into the net.

The crowd then gasped when Nadal bravely challenged a line call on the second match point after Thiem’s defensive lob tested the baseline. The technology backed Nadal but his backhand failed him on the final point, planting the ball into a net that seemed against him all night.

Meanwhile, Simona Halep went to work a long way from home in the off-season, out near the desert, not taking a day off. Her focus was on getting fitter in a bid to win a third major title, to go with the championships at Wimbledon last year and her career breakthrough at the French Open in 2018. Garbiñe Muguruza climbed Kilimanjaro, got away from it all. She didn’t want to dwell on two relatively barren seasons since her Wimbledon win in 2017.

After contrasting preparations, Halep is back in the Australian Open semifinals for the second time in three years, and Muguruza has made it for the first time at Melbourne Park. The pair of two-time major winners will play off for a spot in the final after winning their quarterfinals in straight sets on Wednesday. Both have already won Wimbledon and the French Open and have been ranked No. 1, and are bidding for their first Grand Slam title on a hard court.

Halep has been close before at Melbourne Park. She saved match points in the third round and in the semifinals in 2018 before losing the final in three sets to Caroline Wozniacki.

The 28-year-old Romanian said that tough loss to Wozniacki was the catalyst for her breakthrough win that year at Roland Garros, where she beat Muguruza in the semifinals. On Wednesday, she needed only 53 minutes to beat first-time major quarterfinalist Kontaveit 6-1, 6-1.