Dominic Thiem wins U.S. Open epic, buries ghosts of past Slam finals

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Seven months ago, Dominic Thiem said it would count more if he won his first Grand Slam with Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic still around.

What’s the value of this one?

Thiem, the second-seeded Austrian, rallied past German Alexander Zverev 2-6, 4-6, 6-4, 6-3, 7-6 (6) in the U.S. Open final to become a major champion without having to go through any of the men who have combined for 56 major titles.

“It doesn’t matter at the end who did I beat or which tournament it is,” Thiem said late Sunday night. “We both didn’t face one of the Big Three, so I guess that was in the back of the head for both of us. That’s why we were on nerves.”

If the final wasn’t always beautiful tennis, the title was still hard-earned.

Zverev, the 23-year-old face of the next generation, bullied a nervous Thiem in the first set. But he began hiccuping late in the second. Still, he broke Thiem to go up 2-1 in the third. But he allowed Thiem to break right back and work his way into a match that lasted four hours, one minute.

“I’m playing bad, I’m way too tight, legs are heavy, arms are heavy,” Thiem said. “But I always had hope and the expectation that at one point I free up. Luckily it was not too late.”

In the fifth, each man was broken while serving for the match, forcing the tiebreak.

For years, Thiem, Zverev and others battled unsuccessfully to unseat the legends. The fight extended as both men cramped. Zverev hit a 68 mile-per-hour serve, and won the point. He also double-faulted twice.

Thiem finally ended it on his third championship point, becoming the first man to win the U.S. Open final from two sets down since Pancho Gonzales in 1949. The last man to do it in any major final was Argentine Gaston Gaudio at the 2004 French Open (the last major without a Big Three member in the semifinals).

“The match was really tough, like a drama, like a movie until the end,” said Nicolas Massu, Thiem’s Chilean coach who swept singles and doubles gold medals at the 2004 Olympics.

Thiem became the first man to win his first Slam in six years and the first major champion other than Federer, Nadal and Djokovic in four years. He’s the first player born in the 1990s to win a Slam and the second Austrian, after Thomas Muster, who took the 1995 French Open.

(Coincidentally, Austria failed to win an individual Alpine skiing World Cup season title this year. The last time that happened? 1995.)

Federer (knee injury) and Nadal (travel concerns) missed the Open. Djokovic was defaulted in the fourth round last Sunday for hitting a ball that struck a linesperson in the throat.

Thiem became a co-favorite with Russian Daniil Medvedev, whom he throttled in a semifinal sweep Friday night. All week, Thiem downplayed any difference in not having the Big Three in the bubble.

“It doesn’t matter if I play one of the Big Three members or if I play somebody else,” he said before the final. “From the moment Novak was out of the tournament, it was clear that there’s going to be a new Grand Slam champion. From that moment on, that was also out of my mind.”

No doubt Thiem paid his dues.

He played three previous Grand Slam finals, losing to Nadal twice at the French Open and to Djokovic at the Australian Open in February. Nadal is a record 12-time French Open champion (going for 13 starting in two weeks). Djokovic is a record eight-time Australian Open champion.

“I really hope, also, that I win my maiden slam when they’re still around,” Thiem said after falling to Djokovic in five sets in Melbourne, “because it just counts more.”

This one counts plenty.

Thiem entered a Slam final as the favorite for the first time after dropping one set over his first six matches. He admitted afterward that the thought of losing — and dropping to 0-4 in Slam finals — was in his head.

“It’s always in your head,” he 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.”

As time goes on, the details will fade. Who was there, who wasn’t. How Thiem played.

But this fact will endure: Thiem is a major champion.

“I expect that it’s going to be easier for me now in the biggest tournaments,” he said. “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.

“I dedicated basically my whole life until this point to win one of the four majors. Now I did it.”

MORE: How Jay-Z, Beyonce helped Naomi Osaka come out of her shell

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Snowboarders sue coach, USOPC in assault, harassment case

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Olympic bronze medalist Rosey Fletcher has filed a lawsuit accusing former snowboard coach Peter Foley of sexually assaulting, harassing and intimidating members of his team for years, while the organizations overseeing the team did nothing to stop it.

Fletcher is a plaintiff in one of two lawsuits filed in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles on Thursday. One names Foley, the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee, the U.S. Ski & Snowboard team and its former CEO, Tiger Shaw, as defendants. Another, filed by a former employee of USSS, names Foley, Shaw and the ski federation as defendants.

One of the lawsuits, which also accuse the defendants of sex trafficking, harassment, and covering up repeated acts of sexual assault and misconduct, allege Foley snuck into bed and sexually assaulted Fletcher, then shortly after she won her bronze medal at the 2006 Olympics, approached her “and said he still remembered ‘how she was breathing,’ referring to the first time he assaulted her.”

The lawsuits describe Foley as fostering a depraved travel squad of snowboarders, in which male coaches shared beds with female athletes, crude jokes about sexual conquests were frequently shared and coaches frequently commented to the female athletes about their weight and body types.

“Male coaches, including Foley, would slap female athletes’ butts when they finished their races, even though the coaches would not similarly slap the butts of male athletes,” the lawsuit said. “Physical assault did not stop with slapping butts. Notably, a female athlete once spilled barbeque sauce on her chest while eating and a male coach approached her and licked it off her chest without warning or her consent.”

The USOPC and USSS knew of Foley’s behavior but did nothing to stop it, the lawsuit said. It depicted Foley as an all-powerful coach who could make and break athletes’ careers on the basis of how they got along off the mountain.

Foley’s attorney, Howard Jacobs, did not immediately return requests for comment from The Associated Press. Jacobs has previously said allegations of sexual misconduct against Foley are false.

In a statement, the USOPC said it had not seen the complaint and couldn’t comment on specific details but that “we take every allegation of abuse very seriously.”

“The USOPC is committed to ensuring the safety and wellbeing of Team USA athletes, and we are taking every step to identify, report, and eliminate abuse in our community,” the statement said.

It wasn’t until the Olympics in Beijing last year that allegations about Foley’s behavior and the culture on the snowboarding team started to emerge.

Allegations posted on Instagram by former team member Callan Chythlook-Sifsof — who, along with former team member Erin O’Malley, is a plaintiff along with Fletcher — led to Foley’s removal from the team, which he was still coaching when the games began.

That posting triggered more allegations in reporting by ESPN and spawned an AP report about how the case was handled between USSS and the U.S. Center for SafeSport, which is ultimately responsible for investigating cases involving sex abuse in Olympic sports. The center has had Foley on temporary suspension since March 18, 2022.

The AP typically does not identify alleged victims of sexual assault unless they have granted permission or spoken publicly, as Fletcher, Chythlook-Sifsof and O’Malley have done through a lawyer.

USSS said it was made aware of the allegations against Foley on Feb 6, 2022, and reported them to the SafeSport center.

“We are aware of the lawsuits that were filed,” USSS said in a statement. “U.S. Ski & Snowboard has not yet been served with the complaint nor has had an opportunity to fully review it. U.S. Ski & Snowboard is and will remain an organization that prioritizes the safety, health and well-being of its athletes and staff.”

The lawsuits seek unspecified damages to be determined in a jury trial.

Oleksandr Abramenko, Ukraine’s top Winter Olympian, tears knee, career in question

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Aerials skier Oleksandr Abramenko, who won both of Ukraine’s medals over the last two Winter Olympics, is out for the season after a knee ligament tear and said he might not return to competition at all, according to Ukrainian media.

Abramenko, 34, won gold at the 2018 Olympics — Ukraine’s second-ever individual Winter Olympic title after figure skater Oksana Baiul in 1994 — and silver last year.

He competed once this season, placing 10th at a World Cup in Finland on Dec. 4, and then flew with the Ukrainian national team to stay in Utah ahead of World Cups in Canada in January and at the 2002 Olympic venue in Park City this weekend. The area also hosted many Ukraine winter sports athletes this past summer.

Abramenko missed the competition in Canada two weeks ago due to injury and then wasn’t on the start list for today’s aerials event in Park City. He is set to miss the world championships later this month in Georgia (the country, not the state).

Abramenko said he needs surgery, followed by a nine-month rehabilitation process, similar to an operation on his other knee six years ago, according to Ukraine’s public broadcaster. He said he will see how the recovery goes and determine whether to return to the sport at age 35, according to the report.

Abramenko is already the oldest Olympic men’s aerials medalist and come the 2026 Milan-Cortina Winter Games will be older than all but one male aerialist in Olympic history, according to Olympedia.org.

At last year’s Olympics, Abramenko, Ukraine’s flag bearer at the Opening Ceremony, was hugged after the aerials final by Russian Ilya Burov, who finished one spot behind Abramenko for a bronze medal. A week later, Russia invaded Ukraine.

A week after that, Abramenko posed for a photo sitting on a mattress in a Kyiv parking garage with his wife and 2-year-old son published by The New York Times.

“We spend the night in the underground parking in the car, because the air attack siren is constantly on,” Abramenko texted, according to the newspaper. “It’s scary to sleep in the apartment, I myself saw from the window how the air defense systems worked on enemy missiles, and strong explosions were heard.”

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