Dominic Thiem has won his first US Open title after overcoming Alexander Zverev in a thrilling five-set final.
Zverev raced into a two-set lead early on as Thiem struggled to cope with the German’s power both on serve and all around the court.
But no.2 seed fought back valiantly from a break down in the third to claw it to 2-1 in sets and forced a decider with a gritty comeback.
As the clock passed three hours, there was nothing to separate the players until Zverev broke to lead 5-3 in the final set.
But he failed to take advantage and Thiem broke back before the match headed to a final set tiebreak. Thiem came through 9-7 to clinch a 2-6, 4-6, 6-3, 6-4, 7-6 victory at Arthur Ashe Stadium after an absorbing four hours on court.
It means Thiem has won his first Major title at the fourth attempt after twice failing to win at the French Open and the Australian Open in January.
Zverev, the youngest Grand Slam finalist in 10 years since Novak Djokovic’s first final in 2010, was seeking to become the first German winner of a Major since Boris Becker’s last trophy in 1996.
As for Dominic Thiem, he had already smashed the records for Austrian male tennis players – becoming the first to reach the last four at the US Open.
But after three Grand Slam final defeats, Thiem knew another loss would see doubts cast over whether he has what it takes to become a Grand Slam winner.
Having beaten the third seed Daniil Medvedev in the semi-finals in straight sets, Thiem was arguably the favourite to go on and clinch the title. But after both players held serve in their opening service games, the Austrian began to feel the nerves.
The German turned on the power to seal an early break and with his own serve ranging between 130mph-135mph, there was little Thiem could do to stop the towering 23-year-old from racing into a 6-2 lead in the first set.
It would have been a shock to the system for Thiem, who despite his struggles didn’t appear to be troubled by the Achilles injury he picked up in the semi-final. It was simply a case of one player at the top of his game and the other struggling to find the level they had been playing at during the tournament.
The serve was becoming a regular problem for Thiem, regularly failing to land his first delivery in the service box and Zverev was capitalising with stunning accuracy, playing at a level rarely seen from him in Grand Slams.
When he secured a double break against Thiem, Zverev took it calmly, almost accepting it was inevitable considering the high level he was playing at. The Austrian, meanwhile, cut a resigned figure on court with a concerned expression painted across his face. The final was slipping from his grasp.
At 5-1, it felt like Zverev would go on to clinch the set, but he missed three set points on Thiem’s serve and then two more on his own, allowing Thiem back into the reckoning.
Despite some resistance from the clearly improving Thiem, Zverev wrapped up the second set 6-4 with a sumptuous backhand into the corner and he was edging closer to a maiden success in New York.
Thiem is the fighting type, though, and when Zverev began to feel the tension at a break up in the third set, allowing the 27-year-old to break back at the fifth attempt.
Zverev’s serve had taken a beating in this set. No longer was he hitting 138mph aces or nearly ripping through Thiem’s racket. The double faults were racking up and Thiem could sense a comeback was on the cards.
For the first time in the set, the pressure was on Zverev to hold his nerve as Thiem battled to take a 5-4 lead in the third. And he didn’t. Zverev made a hat-trick of crucial errors to hand Thiem the break and he was back in business.
As Thiem finally found his rhythm in the match, it made for a closer contest no breaks in serve for the first seven games. But in the eighth, Zverev was punished for a double fault and some nervy second serves as Thiem secured a match-changing break, before locking down the fourth set 6-4.
The body language of Zverev was telling and when his head dropped after Thiem broke in the final set, it looked as if he knew the title was moving further away from him. But Thiem, facing a break-back point, served a nervy double fault to allow him to squirm his way back into a tense fifth set.
Even after three long hours, the duo were playing some of their finest tennis at full throttle in attempt to gain the edge. It looked to be all over for Thiem when he was broken by an impressive variety of shots from Zverev, including some outstanding net play, and was serving for the championship.
But the German simply crumbled under the pressure, handing the break immediately back to Thiem at 5-4. The tension was palpable with tired legs and minds still at work.
And neither relented as the final set in the final fittingly headed to a tiebreak. Thiem was the first to get two championship points but blundered twice on his forehand to make it 6-6. Somehow, Zverev was still alive.
But after a sumptuous forehand winner to beat Zverev at the net, the German’s backhand carried wide on the third championship point and Thiem, after coming back from the brink, finally claimed what was rightfully his. A first Grand Slam title that no player arguably has worked harder to obtain.