September 30, 2020

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US Open final preview and prediction: Dominic Thiem v Alexander Zverev

6 min read

Thiem and Zverev will meet in the US Open final (Picture: PA)

Sunday will see the end of the dominance of the ‘Big Three’ at Grand Slams, with either Dominic Thiem or Alexander Zverev set to become the youngest active major winner.

Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic have split the last 13 Slams between them, but none of them have even made it to the quarter-finals in New York.

Federer and Nadal were absent from the draw, with the 39-year-old Swiss undergoing a second round of knee surgery and the 34-year-old Spaniard opting against travelling to the States, while Djokovic was disqualified in extraordinary fashion as he hit a line judge in the throat with a ball.

Djokovic’s fourth-round exit flung the door wide open for the rest of the field and two players who have long been tipped to win Grand Slam finals will have a shot at winning their first.

Thiem enters the final as the more experienced player. He has lost three times in Grand Slam finals. Twice to Nadal at the French Open and to Djokovic in five sets at the Australian Open earlier this year.

‘I won’t change my mindset at all,’ said Thiem after his semi-final win over Daniil Medvedev. ‘I know what Sascha is capable of. Also the last match we had in Australia, we were both, I mean, really, really good. It was such a close match.

Alexander Zverev route to US Open final

R1: 7-6 5-7 6-3 7-5 Anderson
R2: 7-5 6-7 6-3 6-1 Nakashima
R3: 6-7 6-4 6-2 6-2 Mannarino
R4: 6-2 6-2 6-1 Davidovich Fokina
QF: 1-6 7-6 7-6 6-3 Coric
SF: 3-6 2-6 6-3 6-4 6-3

‘I will go in like in the previous six matches. As I said, I mean, from the moment Novak was out of the tournament, it was clear that there’s going to be a new Grand Slam champion. From that moment on, that was also out of my mind. I was just focusing on the remaining guys left in the draw.

‘Now it’s Sascha remaining, the last one, my opponent in the finals. I will fully focus on him and just go into that match like in the all other matches I was going in so far in this tournament.

‘He’s a hell of a player. One of the greatest ones in last years. Won all titles besides a major. He will also try everything what he’s capable of doing to win the title. 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.’

While Thiem has been operating at a ridiculously high level this tournament, dropping just one set in six matches, Zverev’s performances have left a lot to be desired.

The fifth seed from Germany was in dreadful form in the first two sets of his semi-final against Pablo Carreno Busta and put in an similarly uninspiring performance in when facing Borna Coric in the quarter-finals.

Still, while it’s not been pretty, he’s dug deep to secure a spot in a first Grand Slam final and he deserves credit for continuing to apply himself despite setbacks.

When asked what had pleased him most after his semi-final comeback, he replied: ‘I think mentally. I mean, 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.

Dominic Thiem route to the US Open final

R1: 7-6 6-3 RET Munar
R2: 6-3 6-3 6-2 Nagal
R3: 6-2 6-2 3-6 6-3 Cilic
R4: 7-6 6-1 6-1 Auger-Aliassime
QF: 6-1 6-2 6-4 De Minaur
SF: 6-2 7-6 7-6 Medvedev

Both have experienced reaching the final of Grand Slams. Medvedev was beaten in the final in New York last year, Thiem has two French Open finals and one Australian Open final under his belt.

‘I think a lot of players would have gone away. I knew, look, it’s a Grand Slam semi-final. There’s no easy matches anymore. Sometimes you have to big deep.

‘Today I dug deep, dug very deep. At the end of the day I’m sitting here as the winner of that match, which could have been very different.’

How he serves will likely prove the key to the match.

Zverev is the tournament leader for aces (116), but has also hit more double faults (49) than any other player.

He needs that shot to be firing on all cylinders as he’s facing the man who has won the highest portion of return games during the US Open (40%).

In truth, given the performances of both players it’s really quite difficult to look beyond Thiem for this title. Zverev won’t get away with the slow starts he’s made in the past two rounds.

But there was a slither of hope for the world No. 7 in the semi-finals, with Thiem doing some damage to his heel.

‘It was in the second set tiebreak at 3-2 when I slide to the dropshot and then my heel started to hurt because I took a wrong step or something because it was really hurting,’ said Thiem on court after the match.

Thiem required treatment (Picture: Getty)

‘But I changed the shoe to one with a different insole and it got better again so I’m pain-free now. I hope that it’s not only the adrenaline and the foot also feels good tomorrow.’

The noises coming out of Thiem’s camp suggest he will be fine on that front but there is potentially a mental hurdle to overcome for the Austrian world No. 3.

As Andy Murray well knows, failing to get over the line at Slams can be a painful experience. Thiem, now the favourite, has to exorcise those demons.

He joked he would call Murray if he did lose, but it would be an interesting scenario if Zverev did get off to a strong start and got his nose in front to see if Thiem handles the pressure.

I suspect he would – not to mention that the idea of Zverev getting off to a fast start at the moment seems fanciful. This feels like Thiem’s time.

He has established himself as the third best player in the world and he will be knocking on the door to become world No. 1 if he does get over the line at Flushing Meadows this weekend.

Zverev is certainly capable of playing at a level to beat Thiem but there is not much evidence to suggest he will.

Prediction: Thiem in 3

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