Austria and Germany share the same language and a border and now will share the U.S. Open finals at Arthur Ashe Stadium on Sunday.
The Novak Djokovic-free Open has its unlikely final pairing as Germany’s Alexander Zverev faces Austria’s Dominic Thiem — two German-speaking Europeans seeded in the top 5. One of them will win his first Grand Slam title.
That’s because a German tournament referee, Soeren Friemel, bounced the world’s No. 1 player and overwhelming favorite, Djokovic in the fourth round for accidentally flicking a tennis ball that hit a lineswoman.
Thiem was spewing German in a rant in the third set after he slipped on a wet spot on the court. He was already nursing balky ankle. He composed himself and pulled off a slight upset over Russian Daniel Medvedev 6-2, 7-6 (7), 7-6 (5) in Friday night’s semifinals.
It’s a rematch of the Australian Open semifinals last January when the Austrian won a four-setter capped by two straight tiebreakers.
“We’ve got a great rivalry, great friendship,’’ said the second-seeded Thiem.
No Austrian had ever made the Open finals. The only Austrian to win a Grand Slam event was Thomas Muster at the 1995 French Open.
Zverev is into his first Grand slam final, too, after his big comeback against Spain’s Pablo Carreno Busta, who was on court when Djokovic got tossed.
Zverev, the big-serving German, never had won a match when down 0-2. He finally did so at the perfect time, rallying to win a bizarre five-setter. No German has won the Open since Boris Becker in 1989.
The final will pit the monster serve vs. the monster groundstrokes. Thiem’s forehand was lethal early and he shook off a sprained ankle to hold off Medvedev, who made the Open finals last year.
Thiem was superb in a second-set tiebreaker, winning a 33-shot rally and blasting a forehand winner on set point. But after the second set he needed treatment, fell behind a break in the third set before rallying and winning a terrific tiebreaker 7-5.
Zverev was sinking into the abyss after two straight double faults got him broken into a 0-3 hole in the second set. Then he fell further, broken again to trail 0-5.
“I was actually looking at the scoreboard when I was down two sets to love, and I can’t believe it,” Zverev said. “I’m playing in the semifinal, where I’m supposed to be the favorite and I’m down two sets to love, and I have no chance, I’m playing that bad.”
The final Zverev tally was 3-6, 2-6, 6-3, 6-4 6-3 in a stunning turnaround at in 3 ½ hours.
Carreno Busta, was so in control Friday over the shaky Zverev that in the second set he had just three unforced errors compared to Zverev’s 19 in that frame.
Zverev looked dead in the water against a sturdy opponent who hadn’t dropped a set all tournament despite being the 20th seed. Zverev’s rep is his giant first serve that reached 136 mph but too many holes exist on his backhand side and second serve.
Carreno Busta used all his crafty weapons — drop shots, spins and a heavy and steady topspin forehand to dominate the first two sets. But the 6-foot-5 Zverev didn’t quit, reeling off three straight sets and pulling off a victory.
His serve became genius and he started getting in more second serves.
He lost just seven points on his serve in the final three sets.
“I wasn’t making enough second-serve points,’’ the German said. “I had to change something and be more aggressive.’’