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Ricky’s Preview and Pick For The U.S. Open Tennis Men’s Singles Final: Thiem vs. Zverev

By Ricky Dimon

With Dominic Thiem and Daniil Medvedev left as the two heavy favorites following Novak Djokovic’s exit, their semifinal showdown on Friday night was considered by many to be the de facto final.

If Thiem played like he had been in a Grand Slam final before, well, it’s because he has.

Now the Austrian will play in a fourth slam final–first at the U.S. Open–after defeating Medvedev 6-2, 7-6(7), 7-6(5). Thiem had never previously advanced past the quarterfinals at Flushing Meadows, but he is a two-time French Open runner-up and he lost to Djokovic in a five-set final at this year’s U.S. Open.

There is no Big 3 opponent standing in the 27-year-old’s way at the last hurdle this time around. Djokovic was defaulted out of the tournament, while Rafael Nadal (clay-court preparation) and Roger Federer (injury) did not make the trip to New York City. Instead, Thiem and Alexander Zverev will be facing each other for the 10th time in their careers on Sunday afternoon.

Thiem is dominating the head-to-head series 7-2, although it is a closer 3-2 on hard courts because four of the world No. 3’s victories have come on clay. They most recently squared off in the semis of the 2020 Australian Open, with Thiem getting through a competitive 3-6, 6-4, 7-6(3), 7-6(4) contest. He is 3-0 lifetime at Zverev’s expense in majors, having prevailed in four sets at the 2016 French Open and via a 6-4, 6-2, 6-1 rout again at Roland Garros during 2018 quarterfinal action.

Dominic Thiem

A similar scoreline in New York would not be surprising even on a surface less conducive to Thiem’s game than clay. After all, not only does he boast a huge edge in experience but also current form is massively in his favor. Thiem has been utterly dominant at this U.S. Open, losing only one set to Marin Cilic in the third round before thrashing Felix Auger-Aliassime and Alex de Minaur. From the second set against Auger-Aliassime through the first against Medvedev, the No. 2 seed won by scores of 6-1, 6-1, 6-1, 6-2, 6-4, and 6-2.

And it’s safe to say that Zverev is playing a lot more like Auger-Aliassime and de Minaur than he is like Medvedev. Although the seventh-ranked German displayed impressive mental strength to reach his first major final, his actual game has been mediocre at best. He survived a terrible quarterfinal against Borna Coric and then came close to getting blown out of the semis in straight sets by Pablo Carreno Busta before mounting a comeback to win in five.

Zverev has reached double-figures in the double-fault department three times already this fortnight. Either he will have to be more conservative on serve–which would allow Thiem to bludgeon returns–or he is going to blast more than few second serves at upwards of 130 MPH like he did against Carreno Busta and take the good (some extra free points) with the bad (more double-faults).

Neither option is a good one. Zverev is not consistent enough when he plays aggressively and a red-hot, confident Thiem will hit him off the court from the baseline if he goes back into borderline pushing mode.

Thiem has more game–by a lot–and more experience in this situation–also by a lot. It is hard to see this being anything other than a beatdown.

Pick: Thiem in 3

Ricky contributes to 10sballs.com and also maintains his own tennis website, The Grandstand. You can follow him on twitter at @Dimonator.

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