The nation of NEW YORKA famous for its Alps and its skiers has a new champion. His name is Dominic Thiem and he reached the top of his sports Sunday at a spot 6 meters above sea level, awakening from a divine start and equally bad nerves to capture his first Grand Slam title on his fourth attempt.
With world-class resilience in a 2-6, 4-6, 6-4, 6-3, 7-6 (6) victory over his longtime friend Alexander Zverev from Germany, third-placed Thiem made history and won the first Open final is decided by a tiebreaker in the fifth set and becomes the first Austrian to win Americas Grand Slam. He joins Thomas Muster, who won the French Open in 1995, as the only Austrian to win a major tennis championship.
Thiem is of course also the first man from any country to win a major title without fans, during a pandemic and in a bubble.
I reached a life goal, a dream of my own that I had had for many, many years, Thiem said. I have actually dedicated my entire life to win one of the four majors so far. Now I’ve done it.
In that bubble, a total of 14,273 COVID-19 tests were conducted, and just as it was deconstructed on Sunday night, Thiem went through the toughest test of all, a game that took 321 points and four hours and a minute to decide. His excitement and relief was palpable as he collapsed in court, but it was a bit bittersweet considering his opponent was a close friend he has known since childhood. It was why he dropped the racket tap and social distancing and embraced 23-year-old Zverev, the youngest Open finalist in 10 years, an astonishing talent who may have hoisted the trophy, but for a point here and there.
I think we’ve both tested negative maybe 14 times, something like that, Thiem said. We just wanted to share this moment. I don’t think we put anyone in danger.
Zverev also wanted to cuddle. He congratulated Thiem. I wish you had missed a little bit more so I could have (held) that trophy, but here I am giving the second speech, he said. He began to cry, not only because of the crushing defeat, but also because his parents could not be there; they had tested positive for Covid-19 and were unable to travel to New York.
Emotional currents ran deep for both men during the closing night of the Open, and so did the nerves. Nobody had to remind Thiem that he went 0-for-3 in the final. No one had to tell either player that 2020 in New York was an excellent chance to win, with Novak Djokovic, the world’s No. 1, removed from the tournament in the fourth round for accidentally throwing a linesman in the throat. had hit with a hit ball, and Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, the other charter members of The Big Three, are out. Once Djokovic left, it was assured there would be a Slam champion here for the first time. Thiem is the first player outside of The Big Three to win a Slam since 2016.
For a long time it seemed almost a lock on Sunday evening, it would be Zverev. At six feet tall, he’s a powerhouse with long limbs and a poor arsenal of weapons. Thiem had so much respect for his serviceability that he was so deep into his services that he almost needed an Uber to get to the baseline. Zverev smoked 16 winners against Thiems four in the first set and lost only three points on his serve. Thiem felt as if he had lead weights on his arms and legs.
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He knew this was his chance. He knew he was the favorite, that he had beaten Zverev in seven of their nine meetings.
The problem was my nerves, Thiem said. I was super, super tight. I was tighter than in a long time. Not that it was his plan, but he followed Naomi Osaka’s game book in the women’s final the day before; Osaka also got off to a disastrous start and then turned it around.
The number 7 Zverev lost to Thiem in four tight sets in the semi-finals of the Australian Open last January. Through the first two sets, he looked like his payback time was coming soon. Hoping to become the first German man to win the Open since Boris Becker in 1989, Zverev was unlucky that Thiem did what he did in the semi-finals with Spaniards Pablo Carreno Busta, Carreno Busta jumped out to a two lead sets before Zverev took command.
Zverev went up those first two sets, but even at the end of the second, Thiem came into action. He saved three set points at 1-5 in the seventh game. Zverev won the set, but this was a different Dominic Thiem. He played more freely, the weights came loose. You could feel it. He had a key break in the third set and looked like he’d been given an energy transfusion.
Thematch turned when he broke me, I think for the first time in the third set. I think he started playing a lot better and I started playing a lot worse, Zverev said.
Thiem finished the third set and was much the better player in the fourth, with only two unforced errors against 12 for Zverev. In the eighth game of the fourth, when Zverev was serving, he had one of his 15 double fouls a huge problem the entire game, then scored a forehand before the break. Thiem served it out and they moved on to the fifth.
It was here that Zverev showed his own heart and deep resilience. After exchanging breaks to start the fifth, Zverev had a brilliant hold and won one of the tournament’s points, a 25-stroke rally full of dazzling shots, and Zverev closed it off with a forehand drop volley winner for a 2 -1 lead. The set continued. Zverev was poised to take the title when he hit a huge break in game eight of the fifth set and went up 5-3 when Thiem hit a wrong backhand pass. But while serving for the championship, Zverev missed a forehand volley and Thiem broke back. Thiem leveled things at 5-5 with a crafty forehand passing winner down the line, then Zverev broke again.
Now it was Thiem serving for the game and Zverev coming back from the edge and beating a forehand winner to get him to the breaker.
Toward the end, Thiem had cramps for the first time he could remember. They looked like boxers on the last round, almost standing. Zverev went up 2-0 but Thiem came back. Zverev had two crucial double faults. Thiem was the more stable player, but they were both extremely careful. Thiem hit a forehand to go up 6-4, double match point. Zverev escaped on two forehand fouls by Thiem, but at 6-6, on Zverevs’ serve, Thiem stroked an excellent pass for a winner. Zverev sailed a backhand wide on the third match point.
The party had started for Thiem and his team, and he wanted to reach out to his painful friend, Sascha Zverev.
“It’s amazing how this journey has led us to share this moment with you,” said Thiem. I think we both deserved it … You’re gonna make it 100 percent.
Follow Wayne Coffey on Twitter @wr_coffey
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