Friday, September 11, 2020

After big comeback, Zverev will take on Thiem for title

Alexander Zverev won for the first time after trailing two sets
to none. 2016 photo by Paul Bauman
   Alexander Zverev's demons were returning.
   The 6-foot-6 (1.98-meter) German climbed to No. 3 at age 20 in 2017 but, feeling the pressure of great expectations, underachieved in Grand Slam tournaments until this year.
   He came out flat today in his second consecutive major semifinal and quickly trailed two sets to none in the U.S. Open.
   Suddenly, the fifth-seeded Zverev found his explosive game and topped 20th-seeded Pablo Carreno Busta of Spain 3-6, 2-6, 6-3, 6-4, 6-3 to reach his first Grand Slam final. Zverev will play second-seeded Dominic Thiem on Sunday at 1 p.m. PDT (ESPN). 
   Zverev, now ranked seventh, scored the only break of the fifth set in the opening game to become the first German man to reach the U.S. Open final since Michael Stich lost to Andre Agassi in 1994.
   "I was actually looking at the scoreboard when I was down to sets to love," the 23-year-old Zverev, who have never come back from that deficit, said in an on-court interview. "I was like, I can't believe it. I'm playing in a (Grand Slam) semifinal where I'm supposed to be the favorite, and I'm down two sets to love, and I have no chance. I'm playing that bad. I knew I had to come up with better tennis and be more stable.
   "The conditions today were completely different. ... The ball wasn't as fast, so my serve wasn't as effective. But I'm through to my first Grand Slam final, and that's all that matters."
   Zverev still blasted 24 aces, 20 more than the 6-foot-2 (1.88-meter) Carreno Busta, in the 3-hour, 23-minute match.
   Carreno Busta, who also was seeking his first Grand Slam final, took a medical timeout for a hip problem after the fourth set but didn't appear inhibited. He had advanced to the quarterfinals when top-ranked Novak Djokovic was defaulted for accidentally hitting a line judge in the throat with a ball.
   Thiem overcame an Achilles tendon injury to beat third-seeded Daniil Medvedev of Russia 6-2, 7-6 (7), 7-6 (5). Medvedev, last year's runner-up to Rafael Nadal in a five-set epic, was rattled by a non-call in the first set and led by a service break in the second and third sets.
   Thiem is 0-3 in Grand Slam finals, having lost to Rafael Nadal in the 2018 and 2019 French Open and Djokovic in this year's Australian Open.
   Thiem, a 27-year-old Austrian, leads Zverev 7-2 (3-1 on hardcourts) in the head-to-head series. Thiem won the last meeting 3-6, 6-4, 7-6 (3), 7-6 (4) in the Australian Open semifinals in January.
   Women's singles final — Fourth-seeded Naomi Osaka, 22, of Japan will meet unseeded Victoria Azarenka, 31, of Belarus on Saturday at 1 p.m. PDT (ESPN) in a matchup of former world No. 1s and two-time Grand Slam singles champions.
   Osaka, who made her WTA main-draw debut in the 2014 Bank of the West Classic at Stanford, is 2-1 against Azarenka, who won the Stanford title 10 years ago. But both of Osaka's victories came on clay. Azarenka routed Osaka 6-1, 6-1 in the third round of the 2016 Australian Open in their first meeting, but Osaka was only 18 at the time.
   Osaka won consecutive Grand Slam titles in the 2018 U.S. Open, shocking Serena Williams in a tumultuous final, and 2019 Australian Open.
   Azarenka will play in her first major final since winning her second straight Australian Open title in 2013. She extended her winning streak to 12 matches, including a walkover against Osaka in the final of the Western & Southern Open in Flushing Meadows, after going 0-3 since August 2019. 
   Azarenka played only two tournaments between May 2016 and March 2018 because of pregnancy and a subsequent child custody dispute, plummeting to No. 978 in May 2017.
   Women's doubles final — Playing in their first tournament together, unseeded Laura Siegemund of Germany and Vera Zvonareva of Russia beat third-seeded Nicole Melichar of the United States and Yifan Xu of China 6-4, 6-4.
   Siegemund, 32, and Zvonareva, a 36-year-old mother, also knocked off seventh-seeded Azarenka and Sofia Kenin in the second round and second-seeded Elise Mertens and Aryna Sabalenka, the defending champions, in the quarterfinals.
   Melichar, 27, and Xu, a 32-year-old left-hander, did not play a seeded team in the tournament.
   Zvonareva earned her third major women's doubles crown and first since the 2012 Australian Open with compatriot Svetlana Kuznetsova. Zvonareva, a two-time runner-up in women's doubles at Stanford (2005 and 2008), also won the 2006 U.S. Open with Nathalie Dechy of France.
   Zvonareva, formerly ranked No. 2 in singles, also owns two Grand Slam mixed doubles titles, including the 2004 U.S. Open with ex-Stanford All-American Bob Bryan.
   Siegemund played in her first major women's doubles final but won the U.S. Open mixed doubles crown of Mate Pavic of Croatia in 2016. Pavic captured the men's doubles title at Flushing Meadows with Bruno Soares of Brazil on Thursday.
   Melichar and Xu each fell to 0-2 in Grand Slam women's doubles finals. They were the Wimbledon runners-up in 2018 and 2019, respectively, with other partners. 
   Xu and Melichar won the doubles title at Stanford in 2015 and San Jose, Calif., last year, respectively, with other partners.
   Siegemund and Zvonareva split $400,000 for today's victory, and Melichar and Xu shared $240,000.

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