Dominic Thiem is finally a slam champion after winning a final at his fourth attempt but would have to work extremely hard for it, coming from two sets down to defeat Alexander Zverev 2-6 4-6 6-4 6-3 7-6. Thiem also became the first male player born in the 1990s to win a slam while this was the first time a US Open final had been decided by a final set tiebreak.
Zverev had started badly in his last two matches but there were no such worries in this one, breaking early in an impressive first set that saw him hit 16 winners to just 6 unforced errors. He took that form into the second set winning five of the first six games, before Thiem pegged him back only to fall short at Zverev’s second attempt at serving it out.
With Thiem 0-3 in slam finals, he could have been easily forgiven for falling apart completely in the third set – especially when Zverev broke once more to go *2-1 up. A failure to consolidate that break brought Thiem to life while errors became more common from the Zverev racquet in this one, with a routine forehand wide on set point summing up the German’s performance as the third set wore on.
A complete drop off in his serve in set four left Zverev in trouble, serving at just 52% in this set. He hit just one of his fifteen double faults in this set but it was at nearly the worst possible moment. It brought up break point for Thiem, who was the beneficiary of another error that allowed him to serve out the match.
The fifth set could have gone very quickly after Zverev was broken to begin but the German got a new lease of life, hitting a blistering backhand to bring up break point. Thiem double faulted to put the match back on serve and it would remain that way until Zverev went up 4-3. Thiem had saved 0-30 in his previous game but there was no reprieve for him here with the German securing the break with some aggressive play.
Just one game away from the title, Zverev threw in an incredibly nervy game with four errors including a netted volley on break point. Zverev moved as close as two points away in the next return game before Thiem ramped things up, eventually holding with a pair of stunning winners. Thiem broke again after two poor errors from Zverev, before killing his momentum completely by calling the trainer. Going down 0-30 and 15-40, Thiem was unable to hold with the break coming thanks to a forehand winner from the fifth seed.
Things would be settled in a final set tiebreak, a first for a final in New York. Zverev’s service woes came back to haunt him in this one with two of them helping him convert a *2-1 lead into a *3-5 deficit. He won the next point on serve to ensure Thiem would have to win both points on his serve to close out the tiebreak. Zverev will have been disappointed to have given the opportunity to Thiem for such a clear passing shot chance to bring up match point but the Austrian took it impressively. Less can be said about his first two attempts to convert match point. The first went with a forehand into the net with Zverev way out of position and the second after he failed to take charge of the rally that began with 68 mph serve from the German. He brought up a third, eventually breaking down the Zverev wall guarding the net with another passing shot. He converted this one to become the first player in 71 years to come from two sets down in the US Open final.
For Zverev, the manner of the loss will hurt for a long time. However, he should take heart from this performance which should put him in good stead for years to come. No longer losing early matches to lowly opponents, a 2020 that saw him make a semi final and a final is a good result for him. “I was super close to being a Grand Slam champion. I was a few games away, maybe a few points away. What upset me the most is not the third set. 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 ensures that he will not have the spectre of an ugly slam final record continuing to hang over him, moving to 1-3 ahead of the French Open where he could well be considered the second favourite. “It was tough to stay there and to still believe. But I did. It’s a Slam final,” Thiem said. “I always had hope and the expectation that at one point I’d free up. Luckily it was not too late when I broke him back in the third set. The belief was always there. From that moment, when I broke him back for [2-2] in the third set, the belief got stronger and stronger.”
Both players are still slated to play the French Open and should be among the next set of favourites behind Rafael Nadal. Thiem’s record on clay is well documented while Zverev also has two Masters 1000 titles on the surface.