Sunday, September 20, 2020

Diego digs deep to reach first Masters 1000 final

   It would have been easy for Diego Schwartzman to suffer a letdown after shocking Rafael Nadal on Saturday.
   Instead, the 5-foot-7 (1.70-meter), 141-pound (64-kilogram) Argentine gutted out a 6-4, 5-7, 7-6 (4) victory over Denis Shapovalov of Canada today in the semifinals of the Italian Open in Rome.
   Shapovalov, seeded 12th, served for the match at 5-4 in the third set, which lasted 1 hour, 27 minutes. Schwartzman, seeded eighth, ultimately prevailed in 3 hours, 15 minutes to reach his first Masters 1000 (the highest level besides the Grand Slams) final. 
   Schwartzman, ranked 15th, is scheduled to face top-ranked Novak Djokovic on Monday not before 8 a.m. PDT (Tennis Channel). If the 28-year-old Schwartzman wins, he will crack the top 10 for the first time. If he loses, the 14th-ranked Shapovalov, 21, will do the same.
   "I have two dreams tomorrow," Schwartzman said on atptour.com. "One is winning a tournament like this, and the second one is (being in the) top 10. I need to play more than my 100 percent. I don't want to say (it will be) impossible, because it's not. I know I can beat him, but it's going to be very difficult."
   Djokovic, who won the last of his four Italian Open titles in 2015, beat unseeded Casper Ruud, a semifinalist in the $100,000 Fairfield (Calif.) Challenger in 2018 at 19, 7-5, 6-3 for his 31st victory in his last 32 matches. 
   Djokovic, 33, advanced to his 10th Italian Open final. He is 4-0 against Schwartzman, including a 6-3, 6-7 (2), 6-3 win in the Rome semifinals last year. 
   Top-seeded Simona Halep is set to play second seed and defending champion Karolina Pliskova in the women's final at 5:30 a.m. PDT in a showdown of 28-year-olds and former world No. 1s.
   Halep, the Rome runner-up in 2017 and 2018, outlasted ninth-seeded Garbine Muguruza 6-3, 4-6, 6-4 for her 13th consecutive victory and 18th in her last 19 matches. Both players have been ranked No. 1 and won two Grand Slam singles titles, coming at the French Open and Wimbledon.
   Pliskova, the runner-up in the 2015 Bank of the West Classic at Stanford, outplayed 12th-seeded Marketa Vondrousova, a finalist in last year's French Open at 19, 6-2, 6-4 in an all-Czech affair. Vondrousova, a left-hander, had left-wrist surgery last summer and sat out for the rest of the year. 
   The second-ranked Halep, who will turn 29 on Saturday, is 7-4 against Pliskova, ranked fourth, but Pliskova has won three of the last four encounters. They have split two clay-court matches, including Halep's 6-4, 3-6, 6-3 win in the semifinals of the 2017 French Open.   
   In today's men's doubles final, fourth-seeded Marcel Granollers of Spain and Horacio Zeballos of Argentina edged unseeded Frenchmen Jeremy Chardy and Fabrice Martin 6-4, 5-7 [10-8] for their third title of the coronavirus-shortened season.
   Granollers, the singles runner-up in the $100,000 Tiburon (Calif.) Challenger in 2018, won his second Italian Open title in his fourth Rome final. He took the 2012 crown with compatriot Marc Lopez.
   Top-seeded Hsieh Su-Wei of Chinese Taipei and Barbora Strycova of the Czech Republic claimed the women's doubles title, dominating unseeded Anna-Lena Friedsam of Germany and Raluca Olaru of Romania 6-2, 6-2. Hsieh and Strycova improved to 21-1 this year with four titles.

Saturday, September 19, 2020

Schwartzman shocks Nadal; Italian has Ruud awakening

Rafael Nadal lost to Diego Schwartzman 6-2, 7-5 today in the Italian Open
quarterfinals in Rome. Nadal, who was seeking his third straight title in the
tournament and 10th overall, had been 9-0 against the diminutive Schwartz-
man. File photo by Mal Taam
   Raise your hand if you saw this one coming.
   In a monumental upset, eighth-seeded Diego Schwartzman of Argentina defeated second-seeded Rafael Nadal 6-2, 7-5 today to reach the Italian Open semifinals in Rome for the second consecutive year.
   They are the only two semifinal appearances in a Masters 1000 tournament, the highest level besides the Grand Slams, in the 28-year-old Schwartzman's career.
   Nadal has won nine Italian Open titles, including the last two, and had been 9-0 against the 5-foot-7 (1.70-meter), 141-pound (64-kilogram) Schwartzman.
   Today's second set featured five consecutive service breaks until Schwartzman held serve for the match on his second attempt.
   "For sure, it's my best match ever," Schwartzman said on atptour.com. "I played a few times against the three big champions in tennis. I never beat them until today. I'm very happy."
    The second-ranked Nadal, 34, was playing in his first tournament since winning Acapulco for the third time in February. He chose not to play in the U.S. Open because of coronavirus concerns.
   The 15th-ranked Schwartzman is scheduled to play 14th-ranked Denis Shapovalov of Canada for the first time on Sunday not before 10 a.m. PDT (Tennis Channel).
   Shapovalov, a 21-year-old left-hander seeded 12th, beat 15th-seeded Grigor Dimitrov of Bulgaria 6-2, 3-6, 6-2 in the Battle of (One-Handed) Backhands. Shapovalov reached his first career Grand Slam quarterfinal in the recent U.S. Open.
   Meanwhile, both No. 4 seeds lost to 21-year-olds in contrasting fashion.
   Unseeded Casper Ruud of Norway edged Matteo Berrettini, the last remaining Italian, 4-6, 6-3, 7-6 (5) in 2 hours, 57 minutes in Rome to reach his first Masters 1000 semifinal.
   On the women's side, 12th-seeded Marketa Vondrousova of the Czech Republic dismissed Ukrainian Elina Svitolina, the 2017 and 2018 Italian Open champion, 6-3, 6-0 in 1 hour, 20 minutes.
   Ruud, a semifinalist in the $100,000 Fairfield (Calif.) Challenger in 2018 at 19, improved to 12-2 on clay this year. He reached two finals in three tournaments on the South American swing in February, winning his first ATP title in Buenos Aires and finishing as the runner-up in Santiago.
   Ranked a career-high No. 34, Ruud has surpassed his father Christian, who peaked at No. 39 in 1995.
   Berrettini, a U.S. Open semifinalist last year, was attempting to become only the second Italian to reach the Rome semifinals since 2000. Filippo Volandri advanced to the semis in 2007.
   Ruud is set to take on top-ranked Novak Djokovic for the first time on Sunday not before 5 a.m. PDT. Djokovic, who won the last of his four Italian Open titles in 2015, topped German qualifier Dominik Koepfer, the runner-up in the $81,240 Aptos, Calif., Challenger last year, 6-3, 4-6, 6-3 for his 30th victory in his last 31 matches.
   Djokovic, who was defaulted from his fourth-round match in the U.S. Open, smashed his racket on the clay court after he was broken at love to even the second set at 3-3.
   "It's not the first nor the last racket that I'll break in my career," Djokovic, who received a warning from the chair umpire, told reporters. "I've done it before, and I'll probably do it again. I don't want to do it, but when it comes, it happens. 
   "That's how, I guess, I release sometimes my anger, and it's definitely not the best message out there, especially for the young tennis players looking at me, and I don't encourage that — definitely."
   Before the Italian Open, the left-handed Vondrousova had only two wins in seven tournaments since reaching the Adelaide quarterfinals in January in her first event of the year. She advanced to last year's French Open final, losing to Ashleigh Barty. After falling in the first round at Wimbledon three weeks later, Vondrousova underwent left-wrist surgery and missed the last half of 2019.
   Vondrousova, ranked No. 19, is set to face fellow Czech Karolina Pliskova, the second seed and defending champion, on Sunday not before 7 a.m. Pliskova, a former world No. 1 and the runner-up in the 2015 Bank of the West Classic at Stanford, outplayed 11th-seeded Elise Mertens of Belgium 6-3, 3-6, 6-0.
  Pliskova defeated Vondrousova 6-3, 6-4 in the quarterfinals of last year's Miami Open on a hardcourt in their only previous meeting.
   In Sunday's other women's semifinal, top-seeded Simona Halep is scheduled to meet ninth-seeded Garbine Muguruza at 3 a.m.
   Halep, the Rome runner-up in 2017 and 2018, beat unseeded Yulia Putintseva, a U.S. Open quarterfinalist, 6-2, 2-0 (retired, lower back) for her 12th consecutive victory and 17th in her last 18 matches.
   Muguruza outlasted unseeded Victoria Azarenka, the U.S. Open runner-up to Naomi Osaka, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4 in a matchup of two-time Grand Slam singles champions and former world No. 1s.
   Both Muguruza and Azarenka won doubles titles in the now-defunct Bank of the West Classic, and Azarenka won the singles crown at Stanford 10 years ago.
   Muguruza is 4-2 against Halep, but the Romanian has won both clay-court clashes. The players have much in common, although the 6-foot (1.82-meter) Muguruza is six inches (15.2 centimeters) taller. Halep also has been ranked No. 1 and won two majors, the same ones as Muguruza (the French Open and Wimbledon).

Friday, September 18, 2020

Italian teenagers Sinner, Musetti fall in Rome

   Both Italian teenage sensations lost in men's singles today, leaving fourth-seeded Matteo Berrettini as the only homegrown player in the Italian Open quarterfinals in Rome.
   Fifteenth-seeded Grigor Dimitrov of Bulgaria outlasted 19-year-old wild card Jannik Sinner 4-6, 6-4, 6-4, and Dominik Koepfer of Germany defeated 18-year-old Lorenzo Musetti 6-4, 6-0 in a matchup of qualifiers.
   Sinner was coming off a victory over third-seeded Stefanos Tsitsipas on Wednesday. Musetti stunned 10th-seeded Stan Wawrinka, a three-time Grand Slam singles champion, and Kei Nishikori, the 2014 U.S. Open runner-up to Marin Cilic, in the first two rounds.
   Wawrinka underwent two operations on his left knee in August 2017, and Nishikori had right elbow surgery for the second time last October.
   Both Koepfer and Sinner played in last year's $81,240 Aptos, Calif., Challenger. Koepfer, who starred at Tulane University in New Orleans, reached the final to earn $6,360, and Sinner advanced to the second round one week after winning the Lexington, Ky., Challenger. Three weeks later, Koepfer reached the fourth round of the U.S. Open as a qualifier to pocket $280,000.
   Koepfer, a 26-year-old left-hander ranked 97th, is scheduled to face top-ranked Novak Djokovic on Saturday not before 5:30 a.m. PDT (Tennis Channel). Djokovic, a four-time Italian Open champion, beat fellow Serb Filip Krajinovic 7-6 (7), 6-3 for his 29th victory in his last 30 matches.
   Berrettini, a U.S. Open semifinalist last year, topped countryman Stefano Travaglia, a wild card, 7-6 (5), 7-6 (1) to set up a match against unseeded Casper Ruud, 21, of Norway. Ruud, the son of former top-40 pro Christian Ruud, reached the semifinals of the $100,000 Fairfield, Calif., Challenger in 2018.
   In the bottom half of the draw, Dimitrov will meet 12th-seeded Denis Shapovalov of Canada, and second-seeded Rafael Nadal will play eighth-seeded Diego Schwartzman of Argentina.
   Shapovalov, a 21-year-old left-hander, advanced to his first Grand Slam quarterfinal in the U.S. Open. Nadal seeks his third consecutive Italian Open title and 10th overall. 
   Highlighting the women's quarterfinals will be a showdown between two-time Grand Slam singles champions Garbine Muguruza, seeded ninth, and Victoria Azarenka, who's unseeded. Azarenka has won 15 of her last 16 matches, losing to Naomi Osaka in the U.S. Open final, after going 0-3 since August 2019.
   Also, top-seeded Simona Halep will face Kazakhstan's Yulia Putintseva, a U.S. Open quarterfinalist. Halep, a two-time Italian Open runner-up, has won 11 straight matches and 16 of her last 17.
   Second seed and defending champion Karolina Pliskova of the Czech Republic will meet 11th-seeded Elise Mertens of Belgium, and fourth-seeded Elina Svitolina of Ukraine will play 12th-seeded Marketa Vondrousova of the Czech Republic.
   Osaka out of French Open — Osaka, who won her second U.S. Open singles title on Saturday, withdrew from the French Open because of a left-hamstring injury.
   Osaka pulled out of the Western & Southern Open final on Aug. 29 because of the hamstring and played in the U.S. Open with her left thigh wrapped. 
   Top-ranked Ashleigh Barty chose not to play in the U.S. Open or defend her French Open title because of coronavirus concerns. Roland Garros is scheduled for Sept. 27 to Oct. 11.

Thursday, September 17, 2020

Azarenka annihilates Kenin 6-0, 6-0 in Italian Open

Victoria Azarenka crushed third-seeded Sofia Kenin 6-0, 6-0
in 61 minutes today in the second round of the Italian Open
in Rome. 2018 photo by Mal Taam
   With the French Open 10 days away, Victoria Azarenka and Sofia Kenin are heading in opposite directions.
   In a clash of past or present Australian Open champions, the unseeded Azarenka blitzed the third-seeded Kenin 6-0, 6-0 in 61 minutes today in the second round of the Italian Open in Rome.
   Azarenka, the Australian Open champion in 2012 and 2013, did not face a break point. Kenin, who stormed to her first Grand Slam title in Melbourne early this year, still seeks her first WTA quarterfinal on clay.
   Azarenka has won 14 of her last 15 matches, losing to Naomi Osaka in the U.S. Open final, after going 0-3 since August 2019.
   Kenin, who received a first-round bye, suffered her second consecutive one-sided loss. Seeded second in the U.S. Open, the 21-year-old American fell to 16th-seeded Elise Mertens of Belgium 6-3, 6-3 in the fourth round. 
   The week before the U.S. Open, Kenin lost her opener in the Western & Southern Open at the same site in Flushing Meadows, N.Y., to then-No. 60 Alize Cornet of France.
   Azarenka, 31, of Belarus and Kenin have had great success in Northern California at different levels.
   In the now-defunct Bank of the West Classic at Stanford on the WTA Tour, Azarenka won the 2010 singles title and the 2011 doubles crown with Maria Kirilenko of Russia. Azarenka also reached the doubles final at Stanford in 2007 with Anna Chakvetadze of Russia.
   Kenin captured NorCal Challengers in 2016 at 17, 2017 and 2018.
   Azarenka is scheduled to play qualifier Daria Kasatkina of Russia on Friday for a quarterfinal berth. Kasatkina, who has slumped from a career-high No. 10 in 2018 to No. 74, dispatched Katerina Siniakova, formerly ranked No. 1 in doubles, 6-2, 6-3.
   Kasatkina, 23, also coasted past compatriot Vera Zvonareva, a 36-year-old wild card who climbed as high as No. 2 in 2010, 6-2, 6-2 in the opening round.
   Also falling today were fifth-seeded Kiki Bertens of the Netherlands, eighth-seeded Petra Martic of Croatia and 14th-seeded Anett Kontaveit of Estonia. 
   Polona Hercog of Slovenia topped Bertens, an Italian Open semifinalist last year and in 2017, 6-4, 6-4. Bertens played her first official match since February after skipping the U.S. Open because of coronavirus concerns.
   Kazakhstan's Yulia Putintseva, a U.S. Open quarterfinalist, outlasted Martic 6-3, 6-7 (2), 6-4, and Svetlana Kuznetsova, a 35-year-old Russian and two-time Italian Open runner-up, stopped Kontaveit 4-6, 7-5, 6-3. 
   Ninth-seeded Garbine Muguruza, a Rome semifinalist in 2016 and 2017, eliminated 16-year-old U.S. sensation Coco Gauff 7-6 (3), 3-6, 6-3.
   Four seeds also lost on the men's side: No. 5 Gael Monfils of France, No. 7 Fabio Fognini of Italy, No. No. 9 Andrey Rublev of Russia and No. 13 Milos Raonic of Canada.
   German qualifier Dominik Koepfer, the runner-up in last year's Aptos, Calif., Challenger, downed Monfils, playing his first match since February, 6-2, 6-4. Koepfer, a 26-year-old left-hander, will meet 18-year-old Italian Lorenzo Musetti, guaranteeing that a qualifier will reach the quarterfinals.
   Musetti, who stunned three-time Grand Slam champion Stan Wawrinka in the first round, beat Kei Nishikori of Japan 6-3, 6-4. Nishikori, the 2014 U.S. Open runner-up to Marin Cilic, had right elbow surgery last October. 
   Ugo Humbert, a 22-year-old left-hander from France, knocked off Fognini, who had arthroscopic surgery on both ankles on May 30,  7-5, 7-6 (4).
   Hubert Hurkacz, 23, of Poland took out Rublev, a U.S. Open quarterfinalist, 7-6 (6), 3-6, 6-2, and Dusan Lajovic of Serbia beat Raonic, the runner-up to Novak Djokovic in the Western & Southern Open, 7-6 (3), 4-6, 6-2.
   In the second round of men's doubles, 40-year-old Rohan Bopanna of India and Denis Shapovalov of Canada ousted top seeds and two-time defending champions Juan Sebastian Cabal and Robert Farah of Colombia 6-3, 3-6 [10-5]. Bopanna reached the 2013 Italian Open final with countryman Mahesh Bhupathi.

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Another Italian teenager scores big upset in Rome

Third-seeded Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece lost to 19-year-old wild card Jannik
Sinner of Italy in three sets today in the second round of the Italian Open in Rome.
2019 photo by Mal Taam
   An Italian teenage man pulled off a major upset in the Italian Open for the second consecutive day today.
   One day after 18-year-old qualifier Lorenzo Musetti stunned 10th-seeded Stan Wawrinka, 19-year-old wild card Jannik Sinner ousted third-seeded Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece 6-1, 6-7 (9), 6-2 in the second round in Rome. 
   Sinner, ranked No. 81, led 6-1, 5-2, but the 22-year-old Tsitsipas, ranked sixth, won four straight games to serve for the second set and saved two match points in the tiebreaker.
   Sinner recorded his second victory over a top-10 player. He knocked off No. 10 David Goffin in the second round in Rotterdam in February.
   Sinner, who reached the second round of last year's Aptos, Calif., Challenger one week after winning the Lexington, Ky., title, is set to face 15th-seeded Grigor Dimitrov of Bulgaria on Friday for a quarterfinal berth.
   Dimitrov, a 2014 Rome semifinalist who climbed as high as No. 3 in 2017, demolished Yoshihito Nishioka of Japan 6-1, 6-0 in 55 minutes. Dimitrov won 24 of 25 points on his first serve.
   Another Italian wild card, 28-year-old Stefano Travaglia, surprised unseeded Borna Coric, a U.S. Open quarterfinalist last week, 7-6 (2), 7-5. Travaglia, ranked No. 84, is scheduled to take on countryman Matteo Berrettini, seeded fourth, on Friday.
   Top-ranked Novak Djokovic, playing his first match since getting defaulted from the U.S. Open on Sept. 6, outclassed Italian wild card Salvatore Caruso 6-3, 6-2.
   Djokovic, a four-time Italian Open champion, next will meet fellow Serb Filip Krajinovic, a 6-4, 6-1 winner over Italian qualifier Marco Cecchinato.
   Second-seeded Rafael Nadal, playing his first official match since winning Acapulco in February, overwhelmed Spanish countryman Pablo Carreno Busta, a U.S. Open semifinalist, 6-1, 6-1 in 73 minutes. 
   Nadal, seeking his third consecutive Rome title and 10th overall, will play the winner of Thursday's match between 13th-seeded Milos Raonic of Canada and Dusan Lajovic of Serbia.
   Both sixth seeds lost today. Marin Cilic, an Italian Open semifinalist in 2018 and a two-time Rome quarterfinalist, routed Goffin 6-2, 6-2. Qualifier Danka Kovinic of Montenegro dominated Belinda Bencic, playing her first match since February, 6-3, 6-1.
   Top-seeded Simona Halep, a two-time Italian Open runner-up, beat Italian wild card Jasmine Paolini 6-3, 6-4 for her 10th straight victory and 15th in her last 16 matches.
   In a matchup of former world No. 1s and Bank of the West Classic champions at Stanford, Victoria Azarenka eliminated 40-year-old Venus Williams 7-6 (7), 6-2.
   Azarenka has won 13 of her last 14 matches, losing to Naomi Osaka in the U.S. Open final, after going 0-3 since August 2019.
   Williams lost in the first round for the third consecutive tournament and fell to 1-7 this year. Her only victory is over Azarenka in the opening round in Lexington last month.

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Musetti, 18, stuns Stan in first round of Italian Open

Stan Wawrinka, 35, had two operations
on his left knee in August 2017. File
photo by Paul Bauman 
   Lorenzo Musetti's first tour-level victory was a big one.
   The 18-year-old Italian qualifier stunned 10th-seeded Stan Wawrinka, a three-time Grand Slam singles champion, 6-0, 7-6 (2) today in the opening round of the Italian Open in Rome.
   "When I was young, I used to come see champions like Rafa, Federer, Wawrinka," the 249th-ranked Musetti told reporters. " ... I think it's a dream that comes true. I'm still not believing what I did tonight."
   Musetti had played only one tour-level match, losing to then-No. 14 Andrey Rublev 6-4, 6-4 in the first round at Dubai in February as a qualifier.
   Musetti, formerly ranked No. 1 in the juniors, won the 2019 Australian Open boys singles title by edging American Emilio Nava 14-12 in a third-set tiebreaker.
   Unlike Italy's eight top-100 men, Musetti has a one-handed backhand.
   "This kid's backhand is incredible!" commentator and former world No. 1 Jim Courier crowed during Tennis Channel's broadcast.
   Wawrinka, 35, won a Challenger in Prague last month. He reached the Italian Open final in 2008 (losing to Novak Djokovic) and semifinals in 2015 and underwent two operations on his left knee in August 2017.
   Musetti is scheduled to face Kei Nishikori, 30, of Japan on Thursday. Nishikori, the 2014 U.S. Open runner-up to Marin Cilic, defeated Albert Ramos-Vinolas 6-4, 7-6 (3) on Monday for his first win since Flushing Meadows in 2019. He had right elbow surgery last October.
   Another qualifier, Pedro Martinez of Spain, beat Sam Querrey, a 32-year-old San Francisco native, 6-3, 7-6 (3) today. Querrey, the Italian Open doubles champion in 2011 and runner-up in 2010 with John Isner, is 0-3 since advancing to the third round of the Australian Open in January.
   In a women's matchup of Grand Slam singles champions, ninth-seeded Garbine Muguruza of Spain outplayed Sloane Stephens, a 27-year-old Fresno, Calif., product, 6-3, 6-3. 
   Muguruza won the French Open in 2016 and Wimbledon in 2017. Stephens captured the U.S. Open in 2017 and reached the Roland Garros final in 2018, losing to Simona Halep.
   Muguruza will play 16-year-old U.S. sensation Coco Gauff, who defeated Ons Jabeur of Tunisia 6-4, 6-3. Gauff rebounded from two consecutive opening-round losses in New York, including the U.S. Open, to win her first tour-level main-draw match on clay. 
   Jabeur, the 2011 French Open girls singles champion, reached her first Grand Slam women's quarterfinal in the Australian Open in January.
   Wawrinka wasn't the only three-time Grand Slam singles champ who lost in the first round. Angelique Kerber, seeded 15th, fell to Katerina Siniakova of the Czech Republic 6-3, 6-1 in 68 minutes. 
   Siniakova, formerly ranked No. 1 in doubles, ended a five-match losing streak at the WTA main-draw level dating to Dubai in February and defeated Kerber, the champion of the 2015 Bank of the West Classic at Stanford, for the first time in four career meetings.
   Clay is Kerber's worst surface, which is odd because defense is her biggest strength. She has won every Grand Slam tournament except the French Open, in which she is a two-time quarterfinalist.

Sunday, September 13, 2020

Thiem pulls off historic comeback for U.S. Open title

Dominic Thiem hosts the trophy at the 2019 BNP Paribas
Open in Indian Wells, Calif. In the background are runner-
up Roger Federer, left, and tournament director Tommy
Haas. Photo by Mal Taam
   For two-plus sets in today's U.S. Open men's final, Alexander Zverev dominated Dominic Thiem.
   Zverev, the underdog, looked relaxed while Thiem was clearly nervous as both players tried to seize a golden opportunity to win their first Grand Slam title.
   Suddenly, much like Naomi Osaka in Saturday's women's final, Thiem calmed down. He gradually clawed his way back into the match, which culminated in a dramatic fifth-set tiebreaker. 
   Experience ultimately prevailed, as it usually does, as Thiem triumphed 2-6, 4-6, 6-4, 6-3, 7-6 (6) in 4 hours, 1 minute despite suffering leg cramps late in the fifth set at nearly empty Arthur Ashe Stadium in Flushing Meadows, N.Y. No fans were allowed at the tournament because of the COVID-19 pandemic. 
   Both players served for the match before the decisive tiebreaker. With the second-seeded Thiem serving at 4-5 in the fifth set, the fifth-seeded Zverev twice was two points from victory.
   "Somehow, the belief today was stronger than the body, and I'm super happy about that," Thiem told reporters.
  It was the first time since Pancho Gonzales in 1949 that a player came back from a two-set deficit to win the U.S. championships and only the second Grand Slam final decided by a fifth-set tiebreaker. Novak Djokovic defeated Roger Federer 13-12 (3) in the fifth set at Wimbledon last year, when the tournament instituted a final-set tiebreaker at 12-12.
   Thiem, 27, became the first new Grand Slam singles champion since Marin Cilic of Croatia in the 2014 U.S. Open and joined Thomas Muster (1995 French Open) as the only Austrian men to win a major singles title.
   Thiem had been 0-3 in major singles finals, having lost to Rafael Nadal in the 2018 and 2019 French Open and Djokovic in this year's Australian Open
   Neither Nadal (coronavirus concerns), the 2019 U.S. Open champion, nor Federer (two arthroscopic surgeries on his right knee this year) played in this year's tournament. Djokovic was defaulted from his fourth-round match against Pablo Carreno Busta of Spain for accidentally hitting a line judge in the throat with a ball.
   Federer, 39, owns a record 20 Grand Slam singles titles. Nadal, 34, ranks second with 19, and Djokovic, 33, is third with 17. 
   Zverev, the son of former pro Alexander Zverev Sr. from Russia and younger brother of pro Mischa Zverev, played in his first major final. The 6-foot-6 (1.98-meter) Hamburg native was bidding to become the first German to win the U.S. Open since Boris Becker in 1989 and the tallest Grand Slam singles champion along with Cilic.
   "I was a few games away, a few points away," said Zverev, who rallied from two sets down to beat Carreno Busta in the semifinals. "I'm 23 years old. I don't think it's my last chance."
   Zverev's shaky second serve proved critical in his loss. He broke serve to lead 2-1 in the third set, but Thiem broke right back as Zverev committed two of his 15 double faults. 
   Thiem scored the only break of the fourth set to lead 5-3 as Zverev double-faulted and netted a forehand on the last two points of the game.
   In the fifth set, Zverev and Thiem served for the match at 5-3 and 6-5, respectively. Zverev led 2-0 in the tiebreaker, but Thiem leveled at 2-2 on a double fault. Zverev double-faulted again for 3-5 but saved two championship points to pull even at 6-6. 
   Thiem earned a third championship point at 7-6 with a forehand passing shot down the line as Zverev charged the net. Zverev then slugged a cross-court backhand wide to end the suspense.
   Thiem, who earned $3 million, will remain No. 3 in Monday's new world rankings. Zverev, who received $1.5 million, will stay at No. 7.
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