For the past three seasons, Dominic Thiem inched closer to his dream of winning a Grand Slam title.
After a brutal straight-sets defeat to Rafael Nadal in the 2018 Roland Garros final, he took a set off the Spaniard when they reprised that final the following year in Paris. Thiem then came within one set of a major championship at this year’s Australian Open before suffering a heartbreaking five-set loss to Novak Djokovic.
what a match! Finals US OPEN #usopen
“It’s the biggest goal and the biggest dream I’ve had in my tennis career for a few years, since the moment I realised that maybe I can make it one day and especially since I played [my] first final at 2018 Roland Garros,” Thiem said. “It was really tough to digest that loss in Australia as I was super close. I’m happy that in a pretty short time, I gave myself another chance with this win today [and] with the final on Sunday.”
“Of course, it’s pressure for me. At the same time, I try not to think too much about it. If it’s not going to happen on Sunday, I have to continue working and maybe get the chance at another Slam. [But] the chance is now… I’ll try everything to make it.”
— ATP Tour (@atptour) September 12, 2020
Thiem’s latest chance was far from a guarantee. He suffered a shocking opening-round defeat last month at the Western & Southern Open and didn’t produce his best tennis in the first week of the US Open, but gradually rounded into form this fortnight.
But it was Thiem’s mental fortitude that got him over the line against Medvedev. The Russian served for the second and third sets and also held a set point in both of them. Thiem held his nerve and forced Medvedev to beat him, which he didn’t. He powered through a left ankle injury to continue chasing down shots and capitalised on the few opportunities provided to improve to 3-1 in their ATP Head2Head rivalry.
“That was a great match on a very high level. [It] was probably the toughest straight-sets win I’ve ever had,” Thiem said. “I could have easily been one [or] two sets down. He served for the second and third sets. Luckily, I played my best tennis towards the end of both of these sets.”
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Unlike Thiem’s three previous Grand Slam finals, he’ll step on court this Sunday as the on-paper favourite. He holds a 7-2 lead against Zverev in their ATP Head2Head series and won their past three matches, including a four-set triumph this year in the Australian Open semi-finals.
Although Thiem acknowledges the magnitude of having a guaranteed new Grand Slam champion, he said facing that reality has helped him detach from it. He plans to prepare for the final in the same way he approached his first round, leaving no stone unturned in pursuit of victory.
“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,” Thiem said. “I was just focussing on the remaining guys left in the draw. Now it’s Sascha remaining. I will fully focus on him and go into that match like in the all other matches so far in this tournament.”