Dominic Thiem staged a remarkable comeback to seal his first Grand Slam title at the fourth attempt as he battled back from two sets down to defeat Alexander Zverev 2-6 4-6 6-4 6-3 7-6 (8-6) in the final of the US Open on Sunday.
Thiem could barely walk but he finally grabbed the chance to step out of the shadows of his illustrious contemporaries to claim his maiden Grand Slam at Flushing Meadows.
Second seed Thiem had lost all three of his previous Grand Slam finals – twice to Rafael Nadal at the French Open and world No 1 Novak Djokovic in Australia earlier this year, but he finally got over the line here in New York under unique circumstances.
With Djokovic, Nadal and Roger Federer, the sport’s big three, all absent from final weekend this year, tennis now has a new Grand Slam champion in Thiem for the first time since Marin Cilic clinched the title here in 2014.
Zverev, 23, is the youngest men’s finalist in a Grand Slam for a decade – since Djokovic in 2010 – and he was looking to become the first German male winner of the US Open since Boris Becker in 1989.
He was also out for revenge after losing to Thiem in their Australian Open semi-final earlier this year and he made an ideal start by breaking in the third game thanks to some brutal hitting.
Zverev has struggled to find anything like his best form for most of this tournament but swung freely and aggressively to take it to Thiem, who seemed nervous.
He was proving to be the dominant force with a further break in the seventh game before serving out the opener in just 30 minutes. He lost just three points on serve, which peaked at an impressive 138 mph, as well as hitting 16 winners
Thiem has demonstrated a keen understanding of his opponent’s game, and headed into the final having won seven of their previous nine contests, but the head-to-head record went out of the window on Arthur Ashe Stadium as the 27-year-old from Austria fell further behind at the start of the next.
The alarm bells were ringing for Thiem when more errors helped contribute to him falling 4-1 down. The next two games went with serve before the second seed carved out his first break of serve of the match. A wondrous winner on the stretch helped Thiem close the deficit further but Zverev’s serve and volley tactics enabled him close it out and move one set away from his maiden Grand Slam.
Thiem, who was troubled by an Achilles problem suffered during his semi-final victory over Daniil Medvedev, appeared to be moving well enough but he was up against a player who looked to be on a mission to finish things off.
Zverev had the trophy in his sights when he broke for 2-1 but Thiem, encouraged by his coach, Nicolas Massu, somehow found a second wind to hit back immediately. The set went with serve until the 10th game when Zverev threw in a few poor serves under pressure to hand his opponent a way back.
A tenacious Thiem sensed the fear in Zverev’s arm to wrestle away the momentum. He made a crucial breakthrough in the eighth game of the fourth set before serving it out to send a drama-filled final into a deciding set shoot-out.
The match had a very different complexion to it now as Thiem tried to become the first man in the Open era to come back from two sets down to win the final in New York.
The pair traded breaks at the start of the fifth before the contest settled into a seesaw battle of endurance until the eighth game when Zverev took a break point opportunity after forcing a wounded Thiem into a backhand error.
Serving for his first major title, the fifth seed failed to take his big chance in a tension-ridden game full of mistakes, as Thiem hit straight back.
At 5-5 Zverev buckled on serve, firing long on his forehand on break point to hand Thiem his chance to serve out the match, but not before the Austrian called for his trainer for a thigh massage.
Incredibly, Zverev broke back to send a dramatic match into a deciding set tie-break. A physically-ailing Thiem hobbled around at the back of the court troubled by cramp and his Achilles problem.
Two double faults from Zverev handed his opponent the mini-advantage before the German saved two championship points. Thiem quickly set up a third opportunity and this time it went his way as Zverev’s backhand landed wide of the mark.
An elated Thiem slumped to the court in celebration and exhaustion before sharing an emotional hug with his vanquished opponent.