NEW YORK • Dominic Thiem has certainly paid his dues in the long-running era of the “Big Three”.
Today, with world No. 1 Novak Djokovic, second-ranked Rafael Nadal and 20-time Grand Slam champion Roger Federer all out of the picture, the 27-year-old will get his next and best chance to win his first Grand Slam singles title.
He earned it on Friday with a 6-2, 7-6 (9-7), 7-6 (7-5) US Open semi-final victory over Daniil Medvedev that was much more grinding and draining than a normal straight-set affair.
“Definitely anything but,” Thiem said, with sweat dripping off his face and clothes during the post-match interview.
The No. 2 seed from Austria had to rally from a service break down in each of the final two sets against his unpredictable Russian opponent and had to save a set point in the second-set tiebreaker.
But, despite pain in his Achilles tendon and two falls in the match, Thiem was the more balanced and reliable threat, and he will now face Alexander Zverev in today’s final.
The winner will be the first new Grand Slam singles champion in the men’s game in six years.
It will be the first Major final for German Zverev, 23, who has long been considered a star in the making.
For Thiem, who has lost the last two French Open finals to Nadal and a taut five-set Australian Open final to Djokovic in January, this will be his fourth Slam final.
“If I win, I have my first,” the world No. 3 said. “If not, I probably have to call Andy Murray about how it is to be 0-4.”
The Scot lost his first four Major finals before finally winning the US Open in 2012.
Thiem has beaten all three of the “Big Three” and Murray on multiple occasions but, throughout his career, they have blocked his path at the Grand Slams.
This time, he did not have to face any of them and will be the favourite against Zverev, who he has beaten seven times in nine matches, including all three of their duels in the Majors.
“It’s all or nothing,” Thiem said. “The last one we had was an amazing one in Australia: two tiebreaks for me, super, super close. And I guess the main thing I have to focus on is to return good.
“His first serve is out of this world: so fast and so precise. So just try to get that back in play. It’s a great friendship, a great rivalry… I’m looking forward to playing that first Major final with him.”
Zverev beat Spain’s Pablo Carreno Busta 3-6, 2-6, 6-3, 6-4, 6-3 in the first semi-final on Friday.
It was the first time in his short career that he had won a match after losing the first two sets.
But what mattered most to the world No. 7 was taking one more giant step toward a Slam title.
Thiem and Zverev, along with Medvedev and Stefanos Tsitsipas, are all in their 20s and have rightly been considered the most likely candidates to succeed the “Big Three”.
Zverev looked anything but likely to win on Friday in the early going as he mistimed groundstrokes, struggled to win quick points with his heavy serve, double-faulted into the net and spread his long arms wide, looking imploringly at members of his team in the sparsely populated stands of the Arthur Ashe Stadium.
“I was actually looking at the scoreboard when I was down two sets to love,” he said.
“I was like, I can’t believe it. I’m playing in a semi-final where I’m supposed to be the favourite, and I am down two sets to love, and I have no chance; I’m playing that bad.
“So I knew I had to come up with better tennis and knew I had to be more stable.”
Easier thought than done, but Zverev is used to working his way out of trouble and, though he had never come all the way back before from two sets down, he has proved himself in five-set matches and is now 14-6 in them.
However, he will clearly need to play a much more complete match if he is to pose a serious threat in the final.
“I couldn’t be happier,” Zverev said of his comeback. “But there’s still one step to go for me.”
Men’s singles final: Singtel TV Ch114 & StarHub Ch208, tomorrow, 3.30am