Preview: Thiem & Zverev Battle For Grand Slam Glory
Second seed Dominic Thiem and fifth seed Alexander Zverev have in recent years become familiar with facing each other in the biggest events on Tour. The pair of talented young stars take their rivalry to new heights on Sunday as they each look to win their maiden Grand Slam title in the US Open final.
”When you start playing tennis at a young age, the thing that you always wanted to do is play in big tournaments [and] the big finals. I feel like this is the reason I started playing tennis,” Zverev said. “You’ve got to be able to handle it… For me, it was always about the big moments in big tournaments.”
Thiem leads Zverev 7-2 in their ATP Head2Head series and won their past three matches, including a four-set triumph in this year’s Australian Open semi-finals. Both players hit more winners than unforced errors that night in producing arguably the highest-quality match to date in their rivalry.
It’s a level that Thiem was far from a few weeks ago as he crashed out in his opening match at the Western & Southern Open. The 27-year-old gradually found his form this tournament and is now in full flight, winning his past three matches without dropping a set. Thiem’s mental toughness was also on display in his semi-final with Daniil Medvedev as he saved a set point in the second and third sets.
Unlike his three previous Grand Slam finals against Rafael Nadal or Novak Djokovic, he'll arrive as the on-paper favourite against Zverev. But despite his favourable record, Thiem will put history aside and approach the match with a clean slate.
”I won’t change my mindset at all. I know what Sascha is capable of,” Thiem said. “He’s a hell of a player. One of the greatest ones in [the] past years. Won all titles besides a major. He will also try everything that he’s capable of doing to win the title. It’s going to be a super difficult match."
The 2020 #USOpen final will be the youngest Grand Slam final since the 2012 #AusOpen final.— ATP Tour (@atptour) September 12, 2020
Djokovic d. Nadal 5–7, 6–4, 6–2, 6–7(5), 7–5.
At 5 hours & 53 minutes, it's the longest Grand Slam singles final in the Open Era 🤯 pic.twitter.com/kQshT6ys3I
Thiem leads the tournament in return games won (32/82, 39%) and will look to apply pressure on Zverev’s serve, which has been prone to spurts of double faults. Although he shines in long baseline rallies, Thiem has also shown a greater willingness to finish points at net. That could serve him well as he hopes to avoid testing a minor right ankle injury that he sustained against Medvedev.
Zverev had struggled with internal and external pressure at Grand Slams, but broke free from that this year. After achieving his first Grand Slam semi-final in Melbourne, the 23-year-old is the youngest player to reach the US Open final since Djokovic in 2008. Should he prevail on Sunday, he’ll become the youngest major winner since a 20-year-old Juan Martin del Potro at this event in 2009.
The German showed impressive mental toughness in shaking off slow starts during his quarter-final and semi-final matches. He rallied from a set and a break down against Borna Coric in the quarter-finals, then fought back from two sets down against Pablo Carreno Busta to reach the final. His fitness is also evident in continuing to bounce back from long matches. Zverev’s average match time this fortnight has exceeded three hours.
One more Step🔒 pic.twitter.com/cqEl8jEjyX— Alexander Zverev (@AlexZverev) September 12, 2020
Although his comebacks have been admirable, Zverev can’t afford to start slowly against Thiem. He’ll need to use his serve and forehand to keep the points short and avoid lengthy rallies with the tireless Austrian. The longer the match goes, the more it will likely swing in favor of Thiem, who produced a 15-3 record last year in deciding sets.
But perhaps the biggest factor will be who handles the occasion better. Thiem will have to erase the memories of his previous defeats in Grand Slam finals and Zverev will need to handle his nerves as he plays the biggest match of his career. The Austrian will also face his first major final without any fans. Although Thiem has adapted well to the unique atmosphere, he fed off vocal crowds throughout his three previous Grand Slams finals and will need to draw energy from elsewhere.
”It’s the biggest goal and also the biggest dream I’ve had in my tennis career for a few years now,” Thiem said. “Of course, it's pressure for me. At the same time, I try to think not too much about it. If it's not going to happen on Sunday, I have to continue working and maybe get the chance at another Slam. [But] the chance is now… I’ll try everything to make it.”