US Open: Fourth Major’s A Charm For Dominic Thiem

WASHINGTON, September 13, 2020 (by Michael Dickens)

If there’s an award for last man standing at the US Open, Austria’s Dominic Thiem is your winner. In a tournament that final didn’t include any of the three biggest stars in men’s tennis – Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic – or 25,000 fans filling up cavernous Arthur Ashe Stadium yelling and screaming and applauding into the New York night, it was Thiem who somehow came back from two sets down to outlast Alexander Zverev of Germany. Both players had their chances to bask in glory. In the end, what was lost was (finally) found by Theim. He became the first new Grand Slam champion in six years.

The final score of the 2020 US Open men’s singles championship favored the 27-year-old, second-seeded Thiem, 2-6, 4-6, 6-4, 6-3, 7-6 (6), over the 23-year-old Zverev, who was the fifth seed. Both battled leg cramps near the end. It was the first time a US Open championship match was decided by a fifth-set tiebreak.

This US Open was simply different.

At the four-hour and two-minute conclusion of the year’s second Grand Slam that began under a clear sky and inside a near-empty stadium, the two friends and competitors from neighboring European countries eschewed what has become the new-normal racquet tap during the pandemic and, instead, shared an old-fashioned hug in admiration for what each contributed toward a most grueling but entertaining final.

Thiem became the first player to come from two sets down in the US Open championship match to win since Pancho Gonzales beat Fred Schroeder, Jr., 16-18, 2-6, 6-1, 6-2, 6-4, in 1949. The last time any Grand Slam was won by a player who was two sets down was at the 2004 French Open, won by Gaston Gaudio over Guillermo Coria.

While Sunday’s match statistics didn’t always favor Thiem, who had trouble finding his rhythm in the early going, by the end he gutted out 43 winners against 55 unforced errors, converted seven of 13 break-point chances and outpointed Zverev 162-159. Meanwhile, Zverev powerfully fired 15 aces but made 15 double faults. Although he won 70 percent of his first-serve points, it dropped to just 41 percent on his sometimes erratic second serve. The German converted eight of 18 break points and finished with 52 winners while committing 64 unforced errors.

Thiem improved his lifetime record against Zverev to 8-2 with his latest victory. He’s won their past four meetings.

An emotionally drained Zverev welled up in tears during his runner-up speech after the match during a brief on-court trophy ceremony. He had kind words for Thiem and both his and his opponent’s teams. He said, “I wish you would have missed a little more so I could hold that trophy up, but here I am giving the runner-up speech.” 

In thanking his team, Zverev said, “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.”

However, it was when Zverev spoke about not having his parents there – father Alexander, who is his longtime coach, and mother Irina – who are constant companions of his on the ATP Tour sitting in his box, especially whenever he competes at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, that he struggled to speak. Zverev had to step back from the microphone and wipe the tears from his eyes before continuing.

“I’m sure (my parents) are sitting at home, even though I lost, are pretty proud.

“It’s just tough, you know. I just hope one day I can bring the trophy home,” he said.

To get to the fifth set of their epic final, Thiem took advantage of a double fault and forehand error from Zverev that enabled him to break Zverev to lead 5-3, and he served out the fourth set emphatically to send the match to a decider. At one point during the match, the Arthur Ashe DJ played David Bowie’s “Under Pressure.”

By the fifth set, both players at times struggled physically and Thiem called on the trainer to work on his legs to keep them from cramping up on him. Throughout, both Thiem and Zverev battled through numerous baseline rallies, hitting phenomenal winners when each needed them most.

After Zverev fell down an early break at the start of the fifth, the German dug in, broke back immediately and went ahead 2-1. Later, with a break in the eighth game, Zverev found himself serving for the match at 5-3. However, a three-game swing went in Thiem favor and all of a sudden, it was him and not Zverev serving for the match at 6-5. To his credit, Zverev broke back to level the final set at 6-all.

As the tie-break progressed, it became 6-all after Zverev saved two championship points. However, Thiem rallied and won the final two points of the historic tiebreak – first on a crackling forehand passing shot to set up a third championship point, then when Zverev hit a backhand wide – to capture the match and win his first major.

Thiem collapsed on the court near the baseline to soak in the moment before he collected himself and went to congratulate Zverev.

“We started to know each other back in 2014 and straight away started to develop a great friendship … and then a great rivalry,” said Thiem during the trophy ceremony. “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.”

By the numbers

• Dominic Thiem, who became the first Grand Slam champion born in the 1990s, also is the 55th different Grand Slam champion of the Open Era (which began in 1968) and the 150th of all time.

• Thiem is the first Austrian to win the US Open and just the second from Austria to win a major. He joins Thomas Muster, who won the 1995 French Open.

• At age 23, Alexander Zverev is the youngest to compete in a major final since Novak Djokovic in the 2010 US Open.

• Speaking of age, Thiem was nine when Roger Federer won his first Wimbledon in 2003. He was 11 when he watched Federer battle Rafael Nadal at Roland Garros two years later. He was 14 when Novak Djokovic won the first his now-eight Australian Open titles, and 17 years-old when Djokovic won three major titles in 2011.

US Open Wheelchair Competition

The quote – Dominic Thiem

Around the US Open – “America the Beautiful”