Dominic Thiem, Alexander Zverev
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Dominic Thiem, Alexander Zverev set U.S. Open final; each eyes first Slam

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Dominic Thiem, arguably the best male player in history without a Grand Slam title, and Alexander Zverev, delivering on years of major championship promise, meet in Sunday’s U.S. Open final, each looking to surface in the absence of the Big Three.

Thiem, three times a Slam runner-up, won Friday’s marquee semifinal over Russian Daniil Medvedev 6-2, 7-6 (7), 7-6 (5).

The No. 2 seed from Austria has dropped just one set in six matches and is the clear favorite against Zverev, against whom he has a 7-2 head-to-head record.

Medvedev, the 2019 U.S. Open runner-up and No. 3 seed, unraveled in the first set after the chair umpire ruled he was too late requesting to challenge his own serve being called in on a break point.

He was also broken while serving for the second and third sets.

In the early semifinal, the fifth seed Zverev woke up from a horrendous first two sets to beat 20th seed Pablo Carreno Busta of Spain 3-6, 2-6, 6-3, 6-4, 6-3 and reach his first major final.

US OPEN DRAWS: Men | Women

For the first time since the 2004 French Open, the semifinals at a Grand Slam did not include any of Roger FedererRafael Nadal or Novak Djokovic.

Federer (two right knee operations) and Nadal (coronavirus pandemic travel concerns) skipped the U.S. Open. No. 1 Djokovic was defaulted in the fourth round for hitting a ball that struck a linesperson.

For the first time since 2014, a man will win his first Grand Slam title. For the first time ever, a man born in the 1990s will win a Slam.

“Now it gets interesting,” Zverev said last Sunday afternoon, soon after Djokovic was penalized. “Now I think is the time where it gets really interesting.”

For most of the last two years, Thiem has been the closest to breaking up the triumvirate.

The 27-year-old lost to Nadal in back-to-back French Open finals and squandered a two-sets-to-one lead on Djokovic in the Australian Open final in February.

Now, he goes into a Slam final as the favorite for the first time.

Thiem can join Andre Agassi and Goran Ivanisevic as men to win their first major after losing their first three finals.

Or, he can join Ivan Lendl and Andy Murray as men to lose their first four Slam finals (both won their fifth finals).

“If I win, I have my first,” Thiem said. “If not, I probably have to call Andy Murray how it is with 0-4.”

Zverev’s triumph Friday marked his first-ever win after dropping the first two sets, but it did nothing to change the narrative that the Thiem-Medvedev winner was expected to lift the trophy.

“I’m supposed to be the favorite [against Carreno Busta], and I’m down two sets to love, and I have no chance. I’m playing that bad. I knew I had to come up with better tennis,” said Zverev, a 23-year-old German whose parents were Russian tennis players. “I’m through to my first Grand Slam final, and that’s all that matters.”

Zverev, who is 6-foot-6 and lean, but powerful with an albatross’ reach, has been the face of the men’s “next gen” since at least the 2018 ATP Finals, when he swept Federer and Djokovic en route to the season-ending crown.

Zverev’s record in majors was less impressive until this year. He made his first Slam semifinal at the Australian Open in January, falling to Thiem in four after winning the opening set.

“Super, super close,” Thiem said Friday, reflecting on their last matchup.

At the U.S. Open, Zverev needed four sets to win four of his first five matches before going the distance with Carreno Busta.

Still, once Djokovic was defaulted, Zverev became the clear favorite to reach the final from the top half of the draw. Carreno Busta, the 20th seed, was his highest-ranked opponent to get there.

“There’s going to be two players left in the tournament,” Zverev, who can become the youngest male Slam winner since Juan Martin del Potro at the 2009 U.S. Open, said while Thiem and Medvedev played. “One of them is going to be holding up that trophy. I have a chance.”

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Rafael Nadal can tie Roger Federer’s Slam record with 13th French Open

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For all of the many qualities contributing to Rafael Nadal’s unprecedented superiority at the French Open — the bullwhip of a high-bouncing lefty forehand, the reflex returns, the cover-every-corner athleticism, the endless energy and grit — there’s one element that stands above all the rest.

According to the opponent Nadal beat in the last two finals in Paris, anyway.

“You go into the match knowing that even your best tennis, even if you play it over three, four hours, might not be enough. I mean, if you do it, you maybe have a little chance, but you have to go to your limit on every single rally, every single point,” Dominic Thiem, who won the U.S. Open less than two weeks ago, told The Associated Press.

“That makes it not easy to go into the match,” Thiem said. “And that’s the mental part, I guess.”

When main-draw competition begins Sunday at Roland Garros, Thiem and every other player in the men’s bracket will be pursuing Nadal as the 34-year-old from Spain pursues history.

If Nadal manages to claim a 13th French Open championship — extending his own record for the most singles trophies won by anyone at any major tennis tournament — he would, more significantly, also collect his 20th Grand Slam title overall, tying Roger Federer’s record for a man.

FRENCH OPEN DRAWS: Men | Women | TV Schedule

Nadal’s tally elsewhere: four U.S. Opens, two Wimbledons, one Australian Open.

He spoke Friday in Paris about what “probably are the most difficult conditions for me ever in Roland Garros” — a lack of matches in 2020; a new brand of tennis balls (“super slow, heavy”); cooler weather and plenty of rain in the forecast.

“But you know what?” Nadal said. “I am here to fight and to play with the highest intensity possible.”

Asked recently about the possibility of catching the 39-year-old Federer, out for the rest of the season after a pair of operations on his right knee, Nadal expressed a sentiment he’s uttered before.

Climbing the Grand Slam list, Nadal said, is “not an obsession at all.”

“I know that you put a lot of attention on all of this,” he replied when the topic was raised last week at the Italian Open, Nadal’s first tournament since February because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Of course I would love to finish my career with 25, but (that’s) something that probably will not happen. I’m going to keep fighting to produce chances, and then when I finish my career, let’s see, no?” he said. “I just want to keep enjoying tennis. And that’s it. If I am playing well, I know I normally have my chances. If not, going to be impossible. That’s it.”

There is, of course, another great of the game playing during this era and, like Nadal, gaining on Federer.

That would be No. 1-ranked Novak Djokovic, who had won five of seven major titles to raise his total to 17 before being disqualified at the U.S. Open for accidentally hitting a line judge with a ball while walking to a changeover.

In this oddest of years, the Grand Slam season will drawing to a close in France; the clay-court major was postponed from May until now because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Roland Garros is the last Slam, the last opportunity of this season. So we all know who the main favorite is there: Obviously, it’s Nadal. And everything that he has achieved there, losing maybe a couple matches in his entire career on that court … is probably the most impressive record that anybody has on any court,” Djokovic said. “So, yeah, of course you would put him right there in front as a favorite to win it.”

For the record: Nadal has won 93 of 95 matches in the French Open and his last 21 in a row.

So what makes him so dominant there?

“He’s an unbelievably great tennis player. Probably on clay, a little bit better than on the other surfaces,” Thiem said. “He’s left-handed, which makes it very uncomfortable. And then his forehand, the topspin on the clay, it’s cruel to play.”

Thiem takes notes and hopes to emulate aspects of Nadal’s game.

So do others.

In Rome, for example, two-time Grand Slam champion Simona Halep and one of her coaches, Artemon Apostu-Efremov, caught one of Nadal’s training sessions.

“We were watching the way he hits the ball, the acceleration, the energy he has on the court and the way he practices 100%. It’s always an inspiration,” Apostu-Efremov said.

“This dedication on the court and focus on court,” he said, “it’s something that, for sure, could be transferred to Simona.”

Nadal wound up losing his third match in Italy, which is neither ideal form nor the sort of prep work he is accustomed to ahead of Roland Garros.

Still, Nadal at the French Open is unlike anyone else, anywhere else.

“Regardless of how he feels, I’m sure he’ll find a way,” said Stefanos Tsitsipas, a 2019 Australian Open semifinalist seeded No. 5 in Paris. “He always finds a way, every single year. Clay is his surface. I’m sure he’s going to do well.”

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Skate America will not have fans

Skate America
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Skate America, the top annual international figure skating competition held in the U.S., will not have spectators in Las Vegas from Oct. 23-25.

U.S. Figure Skating said the restriction was “due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and in strict accordance with the Nevada Gaming Control Board guidelines.”

Skate America is the first top-level event of the season, kicking off the six-stop Grand Prix Series leading up to December’s Grand Prix Final, which is scheduled this season for Beijing.

The series has already been modified to restrict fields to skaters from the host country or to the event closest to their training location.

Grand Prix fields have not been announced, though two-time world champion Nathan Chen said last month he hoped to go for a fourth straight Skate America title.

Chen trains in California. Most, if not all, top U.S. skaters train in the U.S. or Canada, which means they will compete in Skate America or Skate Canada if they participate in the Grand Prix Series at all.

Two-time U.S. women’s champion Alysa Liu will not be old enough to compete on the Grand Prix until the 2021-22 Olympic season.

Skaters are limited to one Grand Prix start this season. In past seasons, they’ve typically competed twice.

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