Dominic targets new theme in Slams with friendly foe Zverev
That wasn’t required in this US Open. The absence of Federer and Nadal and Djokovic’s fourth-round disqualification meant the red carpet was effectively rolled out for the GenNext to join the champions’ club.Updated: Sep 13, 2020, 10:49 IST
There’s a picture of Dominic Thiem and Alexander Zverev from a few years ago doing the rounds on social media—the Austrian wearing a no-nonsense look and the German flashing a child-like smile—posing for the shutterbugs seated in the stands at Wimbledon. On Sunday, one of them will pose with a Grand Slam trophy in his hands for the first time.
The good friends will meet in the US Open final in New York coming off contrasting semi-finals on Friday. Second seed Thiem had a surprisingly straightforward 6-2, 7-6(7), 7-6(5) win against 2019 finalist Daniil Medvedev while world No.7 Zverev scored a come-from-behind 3-6, 2-6, 6-3, 6-4, 6-3 triumph over experienced Spaniard Pablo Carreno Busta.
This is a title clash many tennis pundits have long predicted—the GenNext announcing their arrival on the Grand Slam stage and breaking the stranglehold of the ‘Big Three’—Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. The trio though has consistently proved predictions wrong, asking the young guns to pack more ammunition to displace them.
That wasn’t required in this US Open. The absence of Federer and Nadal and Djokovic’s fourth-round disqualification meant the red carpet was effectively rolled out for the GenNext to join the champions’ club.
At 27, Thiem is older than other young contenders but is the most deserving of the lot. Not because he has reached three Major finals before but only the Austrian has consistently challenged the might of the ‘Big Three’ in the last couple of years.
That is one main criticism of Zverev. The German burst on to the circuit as an heir apparent to the ‘Big Three’ but has flattered to deceive, especially in Slams. The 23-year-old though has started to raise his game, entering his maiden Major semi-final (Australian Open) and the final here.
The improvement showed in Friday’s battle as he “dug deep, dug very deep” to win from two sets down for the first time in his career. The lanky German’s strength, his serve, can also be his biggest weakness. He was broken in five of eight games in the first two sets. Once he started winning more points off the lethal first serve, and kept his weak second serve out of the picture more often, Zverev came roaring back. He won more than 80% points on first serve in the last three sets and produced 24 aces and 71 winners (4 and 37 respectively for the Spaniard) to stamp his class.
“I looked at the scoreboard after two sets. I thought, ‘look, I’m playing a Grand Slam semifinal, I’m down 6-3, 6-2 in a match where on paper I’m supposed to be the favourite’. I needed to play better, start something new,” Zverev said after the match.
Thiem stuck to his game plan of employing his strong forehand and mixing it with backhand slices to throw Medvedev off his unorthodox style and eke out “probably the toughest straight-sets win” he has had.
The mercurial Russian, who derived energy from a hostile US Open crowd en route to the final last year, lost the plot in the opening set after an argument with the chair umpire and Grand Slam supervisor that saw him make sarcastic comments like, “Sorry, I think I killed someone, right?”. Down 3-2 and facing a break point, he served long but it wasn’t called by the linesman. Thiem returned only for a confused Medvedev to net his shot.
He asked for a challenge, but the umpire said the Russian had already played the shot. Frustrated, he argued and then crossed the net to look at the mark, resulting in a code violation.
Thiem cashed in on an emotional opponent who had not lost a set in this US Open until then. Medvedev broke in the next two sets but Thiem broke back each time the Russian served for the set and kept up the momentum in the tie-breakers.
Thiem, limping between points and irritated with his shoes—he blamed the inner sole and a poorly executed slide—took a medical timeout at the start of the third set to treat his right ankle, which he said was not a worry. The Austrian knows he’s never had the opportunity to play a Slam final without any of the ‘Big Three’ around. “Well, the chance is now. I’ll try everything to make it,” he said.
Should he remain fourth time unlucky? “I’ll probably have to call Andy Murray about how it is to be 0-4,” Thiem joked. Murray lost four finals before winning the 2012 US Open, the first of his three titles.