Rafael Nadal  reacts after a point against Dominic Thiem in a U.S. Open quarterfinal match on Sept. 4, 2018, at USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center.

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Liguori: Rafael Nadal Is The Fiercest Competitor In The Game

3-Time US Open Champ Faces Del Potro In Semis

Ann Liguori
September 05, 2018 - 4:02 pm

He’s a warrior. The fiercest of competitors. He has thrilled tennis fans since 2002, when he won his first tournament at the age of 15.

Rafael Nadal, now at 32 years of age, continues to be a role model, exuding all the qualities that legendary champions are about: focus, athleticism, drive, winning, humility.

Nadal is relentless in his hunger to win titles. He owns 17 Grand Slam championships and is still going strong.

Of all the competitors in the men’s game, Nadal stands out with his determination, committed to greatness without any distractions, if he can stay healthy.

MORE: Liguori: Federer Complains About Lack Of Air Circulation After US Open Loss

Nadal won an epic five-setter that ended after 2 a.m. Wednesday, prevailing in his U.S. Open quarterfinal matchup against No. 9 seed Dominic Thiem from Austria, 0-6, 6-4, 7-5, 6-7 (4), 7-6 (5) in the match that lasted four hours and 49 minutes. It’s hard to imagine Nadal dropping a set 6-0, but Thiem smacked winner after winner, hitting more winners and a lot more aces than Nadal. Thiem had 74 winners overall to Nadal’s 55 winners, and 18 aces to Nadal’s three.

The 25-year-old Thiem is certainly a player who Nadal respects greatly, and the match could have certainly gone either way as the tiebreaker was tied at five in the final set.

“I played against a great opponent,” Nadal said after the marathon match. “He played a good match. Sorry for him, yeah. He’s a top guy, being honest. He’s one of the best guys on tour. He always plays and practices with a great attitude.

“Sad for him because ... he did all the things well to win the match. Me, too, I think. I fought until the end. I’m happy, of course, to be in the semifinals again. It means a lot to me. It’s good to have now two days that probably give me the chance to be 100 percent in the semifinals.”

In five matches to the men’s semifinals, Nadal has been on the court for 15 hours and 54 minutes. He had a long four-set win against Nikoloz Basilashvili in the fourth round and another four-set marathon against Karen Khachanov of Russia in the third round.

He’ll next play Juan Martin del Potro in one men’s semifinal. The other semifinal will be determined after Wednesday's matches.

Roger Federer is the all-time career grand slam winner with 20 titles. And Novak Djokovic has won 13 Grand Slam championships. They both certainly are very determined to keep going as long as possible. Federer, at the age of 37, won the Australian Open this year. He looked his age Monday night when Australian journeyman John Millman knocked him out of the tournament in the quarterfinals in four sets. Afterward, Federer complained about the heat and humidity and said there was no air circulation on the Arthur Ashe Stadium court. Federer owns five U.S. Open titles, but his last was 10 years ago.

Djokovic plays Millman Wednesday night in a quarterfinal matchup. Djokovic is hoping to continue his quest to earn his third U.S. Open trophy.

Nadal and Djokovic are on the opposite sides of the draw. Nadal has to get through del Potro first, but imagine a Nadal-Djokovic final.

If anyone can handle the heat, humidity, rivalry and adversity, it’s Nadal. The defending champion wants U.S. Open title No. 4.

And I don’t believe he’ll let anything or anyone get in his way.

Follow Ann on Twitter at @AnnLiguori.