By Chris Oddo | @TheFanChild | Friday September 11, 2020
Dominic Thiem, once again, is perched on the precipice of winning his first Grand Slam title. Except this time he won’t have to face one of the greats of the game to do it. Instead, it will be Thiem vs. Alexander Zverev in Sunday’s US Open men’s singles final after the Austrian won what he called the “toughest straight-sets win of his career” against Daniil Medvedev, 6-2 7-6(7) 7-6(5) on Friday in New York.
The Austrian, who has fallen twice in Roland Garros finals to Rafael Nadal, and once in the 2020 Australian Open final to Novak Djokovic, says he won’t be preparing any differently just because his opponent is the 23-year-old Zverev, a player that he has beaten seven times in their nine previous meetings.
“It’s nice that I’m in front in the head-to-head 7-2,” Thiem said. “When we both step on the court on Sunday, it doesn’t matter anymore. I mean, the moment we start the finals, we both want to win with everything we have. That’s all I focus on.
“A good record against Sascha, it doesn’t help me at all. I expect a very tough, very open match. I guess that’s what it’s going to be.”
The Austrian’s fantastic form should help him a lot though. He was engaged in an intense struggle with Medvedev on Friday and managed to summon superior tennis in the most important moments.
More than the straight sets result, Thiem’s ability to weather any rough patches should be his north star as he prepares for another shot at Grand Slam glory on Sunday.
“We could have both won it probably,” Thiem said of his win over Medvedev. “He was even the little better player until he served for the set. Twice exactly in the right situation I broke back. Very big key game was 5-All second set where I saved I think four or five breakpoints. Was a super long game. I think this was a big key point.”
Thiem will take confidence from these moments more than anything, and the fact that he managed to save a set point in the second-set tiebreaker will help him as well.
“As I said, for sure the toughest straight-sets win I ever had because could have been easily completely different,” he said.
It was an entertaining tussle between two players who are getting more and more familiar with one another’s games. Thiem said that he had a gameplan to disrupt Medvedev’s rhythm with slice, in order to avoid letting the Russian control the tempo of the match.
He also said he tried to play a lot of high spin against Medvedev.
“I think if I play like his rhythm, I have no chance because he just doesn’t miss when I play with his rhythm,” he said. “So I tried to destroy that a little bit with lot of slices, with also high balls with a lot of spin. That was what the plan was.”
As a result of his victory, Thiem is now the first Austrian to ever reach the US Open final. He’ll bid to take it a step further as Zverev tries to become Germany’s first men’s singles champion at the Open since 1989.
Zverev, who rallied from two sets down to defeat Pablo Carreno Busta in Friday’s first semifinal, was plagued by inconsistency in the first two sets, but found a way back to his power game. He dominated the Spaniard with his serve in the final three sets and finished the match with 71 winners.
“I looked at the scoreboard after two sets,” Zverev said. “I thought to myself, 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 favorite. I needed to play better, start something new. I thought, Okay, I’m going to go set by set, we’ll see how far I can get.
Thiem, who defeated Zverev in a tight four-setter in the semifinals at the Australian Open, has a great deal of respect for Zverev’s serve and he says one of the keys to the match will be how well he handles it.
“I think for me the most crucial point is the return of his serve, because his first serve is one of the if not the best out there right now,” Thiem said. “It’s so fast, so precise. That will be a key point, I guess. Try to put many balls back in play.”
No matter who comes away with the victory it will be a momentous occasion. A player born in the 1990’s will raise a Grand Slam trophy for the first time and a player other than Djokovic, Federer and Nadal will win a major title for the first time since Stan Wawrinka in 2016.
“It’s the biggest goal and also the biggest dream I have in my tennis career since a few years,” Thiem said. “I mean, since the moment I realized that maybe one day I can make it, and especially since I played the first finals of the French Open ’18. This was the biggest goal I want to achieve.”