US Open: Major move sends Thiem into dream land

The two-time Roland Garros finalist finally lifted Grand Slam silverware courtesy of a thrilling four-hour finale at the US Open.

Zverev Thiem US Open 2020©Pete Staples / USTA
 - Alex Sharp

“It had to be like this - my career was always like the match today - many ups and downs and I love the way it turned out.”

What Dominic Thiem decided to tweet after etching his name into history.

With the ‘Big Three’ out of the picture, it was up to the likes of Thiem and Alezander Zverev to prove the chasing pack can deliver. Well, mission accomplished.

Second seed Thiem has fallen short in his previous three Grand Slam finals, with the burden of history and expectations paralysing his game at the start of the action in New York.

The 27-year-old looked destined for another major heartbreak, whilst Zverev had dismissed his tetchy tennis earlier in the tournament, playing with conviction to cruise to a two sets and a break lead.

“The problem was my nerves. I was super, super tight,” admitted Thiem, the first men’s Grand Slam champion born in the 1990s!

“I wanted this title so much, and of course there was also in my head that if I lose this one, it's 0-4. It's always in your head. Is this chance ever coming back again? This, that, all these thoughts, which are not great to play your best tennis, to play free. Luckily then things changed in the third set.”

They certainly did change, Thiem finally finding freedom to play and pressurise the much-maligned Zverev serve. Like any classic finale, there were several undulations, a catalogue of hotshots for the highlights reel and due to the chance on offer, a few tense and perplexing shots too.

Both players had failed to serve out victory prior to the knockout fifth set tie-break. Limping and fending off cramp, the Austrian edged a pulsating 2-6 4-6 6-4 6-3 7-6 (8-6) comeback to collapse to the floor in relief and exhaustion.

The four-hour triumph meant Thiem is the first player since Pancho Gonzales in 1949 to capture the US Open trophy from two sets down. 

“I achieved a life goal, a dream of myself, which I had for many, many years. Of course, as a kid, as well, when I started to play tennis,” declared the world No.3.

“I put a lot of work in. I dedicated basically my whole life until this point to win one of the four majors. Now I did it. That's a great accomplishment for myself and my team.”

Zverev, struggling with his serve and consistency throughout the fortnight, was a stark contrast in the opening two sets. However, Thiem was adamant he’d break off the shackles and at least compete. 

Having pounced on a loose Zverev service game to take the third set, Thiem sent three rackets away for re-stringing, signalling his intent for a mammoth comeback. 

“The belief was always there. From that moment when I broke him back for I think it was 3-All in the third set, the belief got stronger and stronger,” revealed the Austrian, now the 150th different player to win a men’s singles Grand Slam trophy. 

“But the thing is that the belief in myself is not enough because Sascha, I'm sure he believed himself as well 100%. Two guys like that played a match against each other. That's obviously how it finished, in a fifth-set tie-break.”

There was huge respect between the duo, who were on the junior circuit together and previously played nine times (7-2 Thiem) on the Tour.

The gracious German went round to greet his friend and they conducted their very own customised handshake, before a hug reminiscent of scenes in Melbourne in late January, which was the same outcome. 

“We started to know each other back in 2014, developing a great friendship and in 2016 our great rivalry started again. We made great things happen on and off the court,” said Thiem during the trophy presentation after becoming the first man to win a maiden Grand Slam singles title since Marin Cilic at the US Open in 2014.

“It’s amazing how far our journey has brought us, to share this moment with you. I really wish we could have two winners today. I remember you told me after Madrid finals (2018) I’d win one of these titles. I tell you same now, you’re going to make it 100 per cent.”

Sport can be particularly cruel sometimes. Zverev, so so close, had rallied from a two-sets deficit on Friday, but suffered the reverse in the final and was evidently hurting.

“I was super close to being a Grand Slam champion. I was a few games away, maybe a few points away. For me what upset me the most is not the third set or something like that, it's the fifth set. I had a lot of chances in the fifth set and didn't use them,” reflected the German.

“I'm 23 years old. I don't think it's my last chance. I do believe that I will be a Grand Slam champion at some point.”

Zverev navigated himself into a major final without playing his bruising best, which is promising ahead of his Roland-Garros campaign.

Meanwhile, 2018 and 2019 finalist Thiem is sure he can arrive in Paris physically ready to contend in the Grand Slam gauntlet again so soon.

“The question is how I'm going to do it with the emotions mentally,” stated the latest major winner. 

“Obviously, I've never been in this situation. With this goal achieved, I think and I hope that I'm going to be a little bit more relaxed and play a little bit more freely at the biggest events.”