Home Sports This US Open is Dominic Thiem’s best shot at first grand slam

This US Open is Dominic Thiem’s best shot at first grand slam

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It’s not exactly McEnroe-Borg of 40 years ago, but like the 2020 pandemic, it’s historic. And it just might be Dominic Thiem’s breakthrough at last.

The two German-speaking Europeans, Thiem of Austria and Alexander Zverev, of Germany, vie for their first Grand Slam title as “The Big 3” sit this one out.

No, the U.S. Open men’s finals at 4 p.m. on Sunday is not going to have the luster for the casual New York sports fan, and Ashe Stadium is fan-less anyway. But the level of tennis will be — in a word — booming.

Thiem, 27, has been close before — losing in three Grand Slam finals, two at the French Open to Rafael Nadal, and once to Novak Djokovic in a five-set thriller at the Australian Open in January.

The Austrian second seed possesses overwhelming, blurring groundstrokes, considered more dangerous on clay. Zverev is the much-bigger server, but has holes elsewhere.

With Nadal opting to prepare instead for the French Open, Roger Federer opting out because of minor knee surgery and the German tournament referee opting to boot Djokovic from the tournament for “unsportsmanlike conduct,” Thiem looks finally ready to hoist the most important trophy of his career. (The last player not in “The Big 3’’ to win the Open was Marin Cilic in 2014.)

Thiem overpowered Russian star Daniil Medvedev in Friday’s semifinals in straight sets.

Thiem has a 7-2 edge over Zverev, but their Australian Open semifinal eight months ago was as tight as a three-setter can get — featuring two classic tiebreakers. Thiem is 3-0 against Zverev in Grand Slam events.

“From the moment Novak was out of the tournament, it was clear that there’s going to be a new Grand Slam champion,’’ Thiem said. “From that moment on, [my problems vs. the Big 3] was also out of my mind. I was just focusing on the remaining guys left in the draw.

“[Zverev] is a hell of a player. A good record against [Zverev], it doesn’t help me at all. I know what [Zverev] is capable of. Also the last match we had in Australia, we were both really, really good. It was such a close match.”

A loss by Thiem would draw comparisons to Andy Murray, who lost his first four Grand Slam Finals. Thiem joked about the coincidence, but added, “It’s easy for Andy because he has won three in the meantime.”

As impressive as Thiem was in taking out Medvedev lies in contrast to how startling Zverev’s performance looked.

The No. 5 seed from Hamburg got clobbered in the first two sets against modestly regarded No. 20 Pablo Carreno Busta, famous for being Djokovic’s opponent when the Serbian unintentionally hit a linesman with a ball he flicked off his racquet.

“I’m obviously happy to be in a final,’’ the 23-year-old Zverev said. “But there’s still one more step to go.’’

In the final three sets, the 6-foot-5 Zverev, who owns the perfect tennis build, lost seven points on his serve.

“It’s hard to imagine Zverev winning the title,’’ one coaching source said. “Other than a big first serve, he can only it his forehand crosscourt so he may get caught out. I can’t see him beating Thiem.’’

Thiem has been the poster boy of the “NextGen’’ for a some time. This might be the 6-foot-1 Thiem’s time to not just win the COVID Open, but stamp him as a potential multiple Grand Slam winner like Murray became.

As one tennis source says, “It took Novak everything he had in the [2020] Aussie final to hold him off. Remember he had a classic against Rafa at the U.S. Open [five-set match in 2018]. Rafa also needed everything to beat him.’’

The U.S. Open public relations staff usually is busy releasing record attendance numbers. This fortnight, it is releasing different numbers. Of the 365 U.S. Open competitors, none of them tested positive during the tournament as 13,362 total tests were administered for players, entourage, staff workers, media through Saturday.

The lone positive was France’s Benoit Paire, but that came in the late stages of the Western & Southern Open. There were 48,651 temperatures taken. A total of 230 security personnel were on hand to govern the mask-wearing safety protocols.

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