Dominic Thiem makes history as he fights back from two sets down to win US Openby George Bellshaw
Dominic Thiem became the first man in the Open Era to fight back from two sets to love down in the final of the US Open as he beat Alexander Zverev in a tense fifth set tiebreak to win a first Grand Slam title.
Thiem, the second seed from Austria, looked on course for a straight sets defeat as he fell two sets and a break down to the German world No. 7 but he dug deep to pull off a famous 2-6 4-6 6-4 6-3 6-4 7-6 (8-6) victory in four hours and three minutes on a near-empty Arthur Ashe Stadium.
Both men failed to get over the line when serving for the match in a cagey fifth set but it was Thiem, who looked physically spent in the latter stages of the match, who landed his first major title in a tiebreak.
He became the fifth player – after Bjorn Borg, Ivan Lendl, Andre Agassi and Gaston Gaudio – to fight back from two sets to love down in a Grand Slam final in the Open Era. This was the first time it’s happened outside of the French Open, however.
Zverev had never lost from 2-0 up before and it was an inverted mirror image of his semi-final win, where he recovered from two sets to love down for the first time in his career. He served for the match at 5-3 up in the fifth set but couldn’t get over the line.
Thiem, 27, is now the youngest active Grand Slam champion – the only player currently under the age of 31 to hold a major – and he is the second Austrian major winner after Thomas Muster won the French Open in 1995.
Once top seed and heavy tournament favourite Novak Djokovic was disqualified in the fourth round for firing a ball into a line judge’s throat, it was guaranteed there would be a first-time Grand Slam winner. That man was Dominic Thiem.
He had lost his three previous Grand Slam finals – twice to Rafael Nadal at Roland Garros and to Djokovic in five sets at this year’s Australian Open – but he swerved a fourth straight defeat in a nervy finale to become the first non-‘Big Three’ Slam winner since Stan Wawrinka in 2016.
In truth, he was the far superior player of the pair throughout the tournament and experience served him well as he kept his cool under the most intense pressure to finally get over the line in a major.
Zverev had started slowly in the two previous rounds but he had the first opportunities to break in the third game of the match.
Thiem, who looked nervous, saved the first with a smart approach and finish but Zverev converted the second with a similar play.
The German, who had looked so mentally fragile in his quarter-final and semi-final matches, suddenly looked so assured and Thiem sent a forehand wide to gift his opponent a second break before Zverev held to take the first set after half an hour.
Thiem saved a break point in the first game of the second set but was broken in his second service game and again in his third.
Zverev missed a sitter of a volley on set point and was pegged back for 5-3 but he held his nerve to serve out the set to take a 2-0 lead after 80 minutes.
The odds were stacked against Thiem – no man has ever fought back from two sets to love down in the final of the US Open – and he didn’t do himself any favours by gifting Zverev a break in the third game of the third set.
He pulled himself back into the third set by breaking Zverev – who threw in a couple of double faults to put himself under pressure – and he suddenly found himself back in the match as he broke again – courtesy of some more dodgy serving from his opponent – to clinch the third set.
In the sixth game of the fourth set, Thiem won the point of the match – passing Zverev down the line at the second time of asking after frantically scurrying across the court with some remarkable defence of his own – to set up two break points. But despite getting a look at two second serves, he failed to convert.
The tension got the better of Zverev in his next service game, however. A double fault was followed up by a forehand dumped into the net to gift wrap the break for Thiem, who then served it out to level the match.
Zverev’s head dropped as he was broken in the first game of the decider but a double fault on break point from Thiem offered him hope as the fifth set got off to a nerve-racking start.
In the eighth game of the decider, Zverev seized on a sloppy service game from Thiem to set up a chance to serve out the match.
However, he was broken at the crucial moment as Thiem continued to fight on.
Under huge pressure at 30-30 in the 10th game of the set, Thiem came up with two huge forehand winners to keep himself alive.
And in the next game, a wayward forehand from Zverev handed him the break.
However, Thiem required treatment on his right upper leg at the changeover and failed to serve it out again.
But he got the job done in a tiebreak, despite looking a spent force, and won his first Grand Slam title at the third time of asking.
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