Dominic Thiem became the first player in the Open era who started in 1968 to rally two sets down and win a US Open final when he beat his friend, Alexander Zverev, 2-6 4-6 6-4 6 -3 7-6 (6) Sunday in New York.
It hadn’t been entirely done since 1949.
And there were more firsts. The popular Austrian became the first new men’s Grand Slam champion since Marin Cilic in 2014 and was the first tiebreaker of the fifth set in a final at the US Open.
Thiem somehow prevailed in the four-hour match despite appearing to suffer from leg cramps in the tiebreak.
Incredibly, Zverev lost from two sets after coming from two sets to beat Pablo Carreno Busta in the semifinals. Also, he drove from a break in the third but more devastating for him, he couldn̵
You could understand her tears during the presentation of the trophy.
A tournament marked by comebacks
Perhaps Thiem’s rally was no surprise, as huge comebacks marked the final three days of the tournament. In Saturday’s women’s final, Naomi Osaka passed a set and nearly 3-0 on the Victoria Azarenka hole.
Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal both missed the same major for the first time since 1999, and world number 1 Novak Djokovic was deemed in default in the fourth round for hitting a ball that inadvertently hit a line judge in the throat.
But even more unusual this year was the US Open which was held with no fans due to the coronavirus pandemic but with a bubble in place.
Thiem could have benefited from the absences of the legendary Big Three, but the 27-year-old took down each of them at least four times.
A Grand Slam title was coming, given his place in three other major finals.
On paper he also had a tougher draw than Zverev, who hasn’t faced an enemy in the top 25 before Sunday.
Thiem will no doubt be asked by reporters if an Achilles tendon injury suffered in the semifinals against 2019 finalist Daniil Medvedev contributed to his nervous and lethargic start. However, he wouldn’t be the type to say if he was.
But seventh Zverev – who has fought in his previous two games as a significant favorite – made it past the first two sets in his first Grand Slam final.
When the ATP came up with its NextGen slogan several years ago to promote its young stars, it was the leader of the class.
A game full of twists
The 23-year-old timed serves over 130mph, a forehand crossed 100mph, and he combined attack tennis with counterpunching. He also served and successfully shot, taking advantage of Thiem’s return position. But 15 double fouls ultimately nullified him.
The only risky moment for Zverev in the first two sets came in the middle of the second. A combination of Thiem’s daring tennis and Zverev’s double fouls – which were a problem for him – saw a 5-1 lead diminish to 5-4.
At his fifth set point, however, Zverev officially took a two-set lead. It went even better for him when he broke 2-1 in the third.
But now faced with the pressure of trying to close the match, Zverev’s level has dropped and Thiem’s has risen.
Thiem quickly broke and then broke again at 5-4 to claim a fourth set.
Thiem set a 2-3 break point after winning one of the tournament’s exchanges, quickly defending on the field before hitting a straight pass down the line. In the absence of the fans his entourage roared him. He didn’t break but he did it at 4-3.
Thiem has the ability to crush opponents with his power play and when he broke 1-0 in the fifth, it looked like it was going to happen again.
But suddenly in the position of favorite, as he was at the start, he lost 1-1.
Then came another fantastic rally, at 0-15. This time it was Zverev who heroically defended before a flying winner on a fierce backhand from Thiem.
Zverev regularly pressured Them on serve thereafter and got his reward at 4-3 when Thiem was forced into a backhand mistake.
As the pressure kept changing, the score changed too. Zverev was broken at 5-3 and Thiem produced the magic to escape from 15-30 to 4-5, closing the game with a sizzling forehand pass.
Zverev lowered, understandably, and missed the forehand until 5-6.
But the twists were not over.
Thiem was sick and was calling the coach. He didn’t move freely, broke himself and was chased by an initial mini break in the tiebreak.
Two double fouls by Zverev gave him a respite and Thiem built a 6-4 lead. The first two match points have been canceled. In the first, Thiem missed a character by right with Zverev blocked.
But at 6-6, he snatched a pass to earn a third championship point. He then sealed it on a backhand mistake and fell on the pitch.
Thiem joked that he would have to call Andy Murray if he lost on Sunday, since the Scotsman lost his first four Grand Slam finals.
He might still want to call Murray. They can talk about what it feels like to hoist a Grand Slam trophy.