Dominic Thiem

Dominic Thiem
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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.”

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

Dominic Thiem, Alexander Zverev
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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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Novak Djokovic wins 8th Australian Open, rallying past Dominic Thiem

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Novak Djokovic won his eighth Australian Open title the hard way, rallying past Dominic Thiem 6-3, 4-6, 2-6, 6-3, 6-4 in the final to defend the Big Three’s dominance in men’s tennis.

Djokovic was error-prone in the first three and a half sets, visited with a trainer and a doctor and was even called for two time violations on his serve. Thiem, seeking to become the first man born in the 1990s to win a Grand Slam, could see the finish line with a break point early in the fourth set.

“I was on brink of losing,” Djokovic said. “I didn’t feel that great. Dominic started dominating from back of the court.”

Djokovic saved it, then broke the Austrian’s serve at 4-3 for the first time since the opening set. Djokovic did it again at 1-all in the decider en route to extending his male record for Australian Open crowns.

Djokovic earned his 17th Grand Slam singles title overall, moving within three of Roger Federer for the first time in his career. Federer has a male record 20 Slams; Rafael Nadal has 19. The Big Three combined to win the last 13 Slams.

“Definitely my favorite court, my favorite stadium in the world,” said Djokovic, who moved to 16-0 in semifinals and finals in Rod Laver Arena. “I’m blessed to hold this trophy once again.”

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Djokovic’s latest means that he snatches the No. 1 ranking from Nadal. Djokovic, who turns 33 on May 22, will have the same number of Slams as Federer and Nadal each had on their 33rd birthdays.

Thiem, the closest challenger to Djokovic, Federer and Nadal in recent years, narrowed the gap. He lost the 2018 French Open final to Nadal in three sets and the 2019 French final in four to the Spaniard.

“Novak is part of three guys who are by far best players ever,” said Thiem, who beat Nadal in a four-set quarterfinal, “These guys brought tennis to a complete new level, so they also brought me to a much better level.

“It was easier for sure in a different era to win big titles, that’s 100 percent. But I’m happy that I can compete with these guys on the best level. I really also that I win my maiden slam when they are still around because it just counts more.”

It’s the first time in the Open Era that three straight men’s Slam finals went five sets.

The last two showed just how close we may be to a changing of the guard. Consider Nadal needed 4 hours, 51 minutes to outlast Russian Daniil Medvedev at the last major, the U.S. Open in September.

“You definitely have a lot more time,” Djokovic, who has won 11 Slams since turning 26, told the 26-year-old Thiem. “I’m sure you will get one of the Grand Slam trophies. More. More than one.”

Now the spotlight shifts back to Nadal, who goes for a 13th French Open title in four months. He can tie Federer’s Slam total for the first time.

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