US Open: Thiem and Zverev step up to the major stage

 - Alex Sharp

Close friends Dominic Thiem and Alexander Zverev will vie for a first Grand Slam title at the US Open on Sunday.

Thiem Zverev Australian Open 2020©C.Dubreuil / FFT

“One more step.”

A trio of words spoken by both Dominic Thiem and Alexander Zverev on Friday.

The major chasing duo booked their US Open final ticket in contrasting styles, eager to become the first male singles Grand Slam champion born in the 1990s.

Only five other men (Andy Murray, Stan Wawrinka, Andy Roddick, Juan Martin del Potro and Marin Cilic) have tasted major success at the US Open in the ‘big three’ era. 

Thiem, a two-time Roland-Garros finalist and runner-up at the Australian Open in February, is “desperate” to join the roll of honour.

“It’s huge to be in the US Open final. I’m super, super happy, super, super relieved but there is one more step to go,” insisted the world No.3.

"It is all or nothing. If I win I have my first Slam. If not, it’s probably getting in my head soon, I have to call Andy Murray and ask how it is with 0-4."

The 26-year-old is joking about calling 2012 US Open champion Murray, but even these light-hearted comments prove its on his mind. 

Friday’s 6-2, 7-6(7), 7-6(5) semi-final triumph over last year’s finalist Daniil Medvedev encapsulated the Austrian’s appetite for major silverware.

“Today he played like a real champion,” hailed Medvedev, who served for both the second and third sets, before succumbing to Thiem’s all court craft.

Thiem’s striking was brave and bursting with variety, managing to keep the rhythmic Russian off kilter and off his stride, fending off any threat of a comeback with his “best tennis” at the vital moments. 

Looking ahead to Sunday, Thiem will hope to complete a neat pattern. During his first major final, he lost in straight sets to Rafael Nadal at Roland-Garros 2018. Fast forward a year on Court Philippe-Chatrier and this time the Austrian secured a set, but lost the battle. 

Grand Slam final No.3 witnessed two sets in his favour, with Novak Djokovic snatching away the glory in Melbourne seven months ago, a defeat which was “tough to digest.” 

On that trajectory, Thiem should clinch the title on Sunday facing his close friend Zverev. No.2 seed Thiem holds a commanding 7-2 head-to-head. Significantly the 27-year-old has prevailed in their previous three matches at significant moments. 

“We are used to playing really big matches against each other,” stated Thiem, tasting victory over world No.7 Zverev at Roland-Garros 2018, the ATP Finals 2019, alongside a semi-final win at Australian Open 2020.

“We have such a great friendship and rivalry ever since we got to know each other in 2014. It is really amazing that we face each other in a slam final, but we will try everything to win. I know what Sascha is capable of.

“He's a hell of a player. One of the greatest ones in last years. Won all titles besides a major, it's going to be a super difficult match.

“For me, it really doesn't matter whether it's him or one of the big three. I just try to go in there and give my best.”

Well, for Zverev it was another Grand Slam slalom between the sublime and mind-boggling.

The 23-year-old tweeted on Friday night “Never stop fighting”, clawing his way back from two sets down for the very first time. What a time to do it.

Lacklustre, passive and with shoulders slumped forward, it was getting embarrassing for the world No.7 down 6-3, 5-0 to 20th seed Pablo Carreno Busta. 

“I was sat looking at the scoreboard down two sets to love thinking ‘I can’t believe it, I’m in a Grand Slam semi-final, where I’m supposed to be the favourite and I have no chance, I’m playing that bad,” admitted the German, following the turbulent 3-6, 2-6, 6-3, 6-4, 6-3 scoreline.

“I knew I had to come up with better tennis, to be more stable. I’m through to my first Grand Slam final and that is all that matters.”

A pretty pragmatic reflection from Zverev, who deep down knows he has to bring up his level and intensity several notches on Sunday night at Flushing Meadows.

“Mentally I stayed in it. Even though I was down two sets to love, I stayed in it. I gave myself the best chance I could,” added the fifth seed, buoyed by his resilience. 

“I think a lot of players would have gone away. Today I dug deep, dug very deep. 

“But there is still one more step to go from here. Sunday is going to be extremely difficult, I'm just excited about it.”

Two men after a maiden major, sensing that opportunity, that chance. The last “step” is the hardest to reach. 

It’s time for Thiem and Zverev to prove that Grand Slam tennis after the big three is equally as enthralling.