Zverev came from two sets down to beat Pablo Carreño Busta 3-6 2-6 6-3 6-4 6-3 at the US Open and reach his first Grand Slam final.
The 23-year-old became the youngest Grand Slam finalist since Novak Djokovic, who was the same age in 2010 when he landed in the final in New York.
The 17-time Grand Slam champion had previously been undefeated in 2020. And if that wasn’t enough to make him the favorite, his three biggest Grand Slam rivals — Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Stan Wawrinka — all didn’t play at the US Open.
Nadal and Wawrinka cited coronavirus concerns, while Federer is on the mend from knee surgery.
So Djokovic’s departure opened up the draw.
Zverev unquestionably benefited, but making a maiden Grand Slam final always seemed like it was a matter of when, not if. The world No. 7 owns victories over Djokovic, Nadal and Federer, even topping Djokovic and Federer on back-to-back days to triumph at the year-end championships in 2018.
The Grand Slams are a different proposition, and it took a while for the German to beat a top-50 player at a major. But once he passed that hurdle, he made a Grand Slam quarterfinal and this year Zverev has reached back-to-back Grand Slam semifinals, now going one better at the US Open. He also earned his first comeback victory from two sets down.
He will face either 3rd-ranked Dominic Thiem or 5th-ranked Daniil Medvedev on Sunday. They’ll tangle in the second semifinal on Arthur Ashe Stadium Friday night.
Zverev won’t be the favorite but perhaps that will suit him, since he appeared nervy to begin his quarterfinal against Borna Coric and again versus the 27th-ranked Carreño Busta, who moves well, returns well and does just about everything well. Yet he lacks a huge weapon, unlike Zverev.
Carreño Busta didn’t need to be much more than solid in the first two sets as Zverev, playing not far from Broadway, appeared to be suffering from stage fright.
Zverev’s big serve wasn’t working and he was routinely missing from the baseline, particularly with his forehand.
But down two sets, he got the serve going and swung more freely while Carreño Busta dipped, particularly in the fourth set, with the finish line in sight. The Spaniard also took a medical timeout after the fourth set, like he did against the flashy Denis Shapovalov in the quarterfinals.
In the midst of his comeback, Zverev took exception to Carreño Busta twice going straight at him when he was stranded at the net.
Zverev only lost seven points behind his first serve in the final three sets and struck 24 aces overall. Whereas he hit 11 more unforced errors than winners in the first two sets, in the last three he was plus-25.
Despite the defeat, Carreño Busta will likely be content with his long stay in New York. Besides reaching the last four at the US Open, he also won the doubles title at the warmup Western & Southern Open.
The 29-year-old clearly likes the hard-court major, having made the semifinals in 2017 and the doubles final a year earlier, but he entered as the outsider in the semifinals.
Sure enough Zverev beat him, but barely.