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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