Dominic Thiem is finally on the board as a Grand Slam champion. The Austrian became the first from his country to win a US Open title Sunday coming from two sets down to stun Alexander Zverev 2-6, 4-6, 6-4, 6-3, 7-6(6) in just over four hours in a fan-less Arthur Ashe Stadium
”We started to know each other back in 2014 and straight away started to develop a great friendship… and then a great rivalry,” Thiem said. “We’ve made great things happen on the court and off the court. It’s amazing how far our journey brought us to share this moment. I wish we could have two winners today. We both deserved it.”
Thiem’s win was the first Open Era 0-2 comeback in a US Open final in the Open Era, and the first in over 70 years. He also becomes the first new Grand Slam champion since Marin Cilic who won the 2014 US Open, and the first man born in the 90s to win.
“I achieved a life goal, a dream of myself, which I had for many, many years,” Thiem said. “Of course, as a kid, as well, when I started to play tennis. But back then it’s so far away.”
With both players seeking a first Grand Slam, it was Zverev all over the favored Thiem early on, racing out to a two set lead in just over an hour thanks in combination to Zverev serving and Thiem spraying errors all about the court as the nerves and the moment got the better of him.
While Zverev wasn’t pounding the ball like he did in the first set, he managed to scratch out an early break to lead 2-1 but with the finish line within sight, he failed to hold it. Thiem broke back then he finally found a groove as Zverev began to tighten.
Thiem broke again to take the set then took the last seven points of the fourth set to force a decider.
That marked the fourth straight Slam final that would go the distance. And this would go to the absolute end.
Zverev, who had never surrendered a two-set lead in a Major, was put in immediate danger as Thiem kept the momentum breaking the 23-year-old to take a 1-0 lead.
Now feeling the heat himself, Thiem would lose the break just as quickly.
The two settled down until Thiem served at 3-4 when Zverev got Thiem to miss a passing shot and like that, Zverev would serve for the title.
But two missed forehands put the Zverev in an immediate 0-30 hole plus two more unforced errors got things back on serve without Zverev even kicking back and using that 6-foot-6 frame to unload. And it cost him.
Thiem would hold for 5-all and Zverev once again failed to hold. Now it was Thiem’s turn to serve it out. But not before a trainer came out to provide some treatment for his upper leg. It didn’t help.
Thiem missed a forehand, Zverev hit an overhead and it was 0-30. Moments later we were headed to a first fifth-set tiebreaker ever in a US Open final.
There was no crowd but the tension was everywhere. Two guys dealing with the nerves, trying to manufacture their own emotions, trying to win the biggest title of their careers.
With both guys now visibly struggling physically, Zverev got a quick mini-break for 2-0, but that didn’t last long. Aided by two Zverev double faults, Thiem would arrive at two match points at 6-4. But a missed forehand and another – after a 68 mph Zverev second serve – leveled again, 6-all.
On his serve, Zverev would again try to come to the net with wing and a prayer, but Thiem got an easy pass. Then, when Zverev pushed a backhand wide, it was over.
Thiem fell to the court, soaked in sweat. After three tries, he was finally a Grand Slam champion.
“I wanted this title so much, and of course there was also in my head that if I lose this one, it’s 0-4. It’s always in your head,” Thiem said. “Is this chance ever coming back again? This, that, all these thoughts, which are not great to play your best tennis, to play free.
“I think it’s obvious that I was very tight in the beginning. In the end, of course, we are both experienced enough and we both know that in a fifth-set tiebreak anyone can win. I think it’s very understandable that we both didn’t play our highest tennis anymore.
“When he served for the match, I was struggling physically, but I also thought that he is not the freshest anymore. I was just hoping to maybe get another chance, that he’s not serving that huge anymore like he did in the beginning of the match.
“I played a great game there and brought myself back into the match.”
A teary-eyed Zverev was happy for his friend.
”I want to congratulate Dominic on the first of many Grand Slam titles. I wish you could have missed a little more so I could be holding that trophy up, but here I am giving the runner-up speech,” Zverev said. “I want to thank my team for sticking with me. The past two years haven’t been easy in my tennis career. We’re definitely on the way up and I hope that one day we’re going to lift that trophy up together.”
Zverev reached his first Slam final after his first 0-2 comeback, but he’ll have to live with a two-set plus a break lead.
“Obviously being two sets to love and a break up in a Grand Slam final then losing is not easy,” Zverev said. “The match turned when he broke me I think for the first time in the third set. I think he started playing much better and I started playing much worse. That’s when the match turned. But I still had plenty of chances after that.
“I was super close to being a Grand Slam champion. I was a few games away, maybe a few points away. For me what upset me the most is not the third set or something like that, it’s the fifth set. I had a lot of chances in the fifth set and didn’t use them.
“I’m 23 years old. I don’t think it’s my last chance. I do believe that I will be a Grand Slam champion at some point.”
Thiem has now won more Grand Slam matches than anyone this year (13-1 record) and with the French two weeks from Sunday, he could continue his run on his favorite surface in Paris.
“I think physically I’m going to be fine, 100%,” Thiem said of the French. “I’m going to have enough time to recover from all the troubles I had.
“It’s going to be or I expect that it’s going to be easier for me now in the biggest tournaments because, of course, I had it in the back of my head that I had a great career so far, way better career than I could ever dreamt of, but until today there was still a big part, a big goal missing.
“With this goal achieved, I think and I hope that I’m going to be a little bit more relaxed and play a little bit more freely at the biggest events.”
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