Rafael Nadal. Picture: GETTY IMAGES/FRED LEE
Rafael Nadal. Picture: GETTY IMAGES/FRED LEE

Melbourne — Rafa Nadal paid the ultimate respect to his Australian Open conqueror Dominic Thiem on Wednesday, seeing something of himself in the hard-working Austrian after falling short in a quarterfinal classic under the lights on Rod Laver Arena.

Top seed Nadal exits Melbourne Park with some regrets, having had his chances against the 26-year-old Thiem who held on for a thrilling 7-6(3) 7-6(4) 4-6 7-6(6) win, his first over the Spaniard after five previous losses at Grand Slams.

But the world No 1 was philosophical about the loss, feeling he was beaten by a better opponent on the night.

“I think he played great matches against me in the past, too,” Nadal, who edged Thiem in the last two French Open finals, told reporters. “He played great quality tennis. I think we like each other in terms of character. I like his attitude. Probably he likes mine, too.

“We have things that we can compare each other in some way. I think he’s playing well. I wish him all the very best for the rest of the tournament.”

Thiem ended Nadal’s bid to match Roger Federer’s record of 20 Grand Slam titles, at least for now, having ridden his luck at times in claiming the three tiebreaks.

He will meet German young gun Alexander Zverev on Friday for a place in Sunday’s final.

Defending champion Novak Djokovic and Federer meet in the first semifinal on Thursday.

Nadal had set point against Thiem when serving for the first frame and let him off the hook after taking a 4-2 lead in the second set.

It was a match that had echoes of the pair’s five-set thriller in the 2018 US Open quarterfinals, which Nadal won after a nearly five-hour battle.

“I honestly didn’t play a bad match,” said Nadal of the Melbourne rematch. “My attitude was great, I think, during the whole match.

“Good, positive, fighting spirit all the time, giving me more chances. That’s what I tried, no?

“So nothing to say. Just well done to him.” 

Reuters