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Thiem Poised To Win His First Grand Slam Trophy

By Alix Ramsay

This is it, then. This is the day we have been talking about for years, the moment when someone under the age of 30, someone not called Roger, Rafa or Novak gets his hands on a grand slam trophy.

We have known this day was coming for the past week, mind you. As soon as Djokovic was sent on his way for beaning a line judge with a stray ball, there had to be a new champion in New York. And for the next three rounds, Dominic Thiem was doing his level best to show that it should be him. Then again, he was doing pretty much the same in the first week, too – in six matches, he has dropped just one set.

Thiem is through to his fourth grand slam final thanks to a 6-2, 7-6, 7-6 win over Daniil Medvedev on Friday night. Standing between him and his first major trophy is Alexander Zverev, a newbie to this stage of the tournament and a man who has taken the scenic route to the last Sunday.

Only once in the past 12 days has the German managed to close out a match in straight sets and on Friday, he was almost on his way home before slowly clawing his way to victory against Pablo Carreno Busta 3-6, 2-6, 6-3, 6-4, 6-3.

Given that the head-to-head record between the two has Thiem leading with seven wins to two, their form, both past and present, would suggest that Thiem is the overwhelming favourite. But Thiem does not see it that way.

He called his win over Medvedev “probably the toughest straight-set win I ever had” and his past tussles with Zverev have not been easy. Their last meeting was in the semi-finals of the Australian Open when the Austrian came back from a set down to edge past his old friend 3-6, 6-4, 7-6, 7-6. It was as close as it could be and Thiem is more than aware of Zverev’s abilities.

“I won’t change my mindset at all,” Thiem said.” I know what Sascha is capable of. Also, the last match we had in Australia, we were both, I mean, really, really good. It was such a close match.

“I will go in like in the previous six matches. From the moment Novak was out of the tournament, it was clear that there’s going to be a new grand slam champion. From that moment on, that was also out of my mind. I was just focusing on the remaining guys left in the draw.

“Now it’s Sascha remaining, the last one, my opponent in the finals. I will fully focus on him and just go into that match like in the all other matches I was going in so far in this tournament.

“He’s a hell of a player. One of the greatest ones in last years. Won all titles besides a major. He will also try everything what he’s capable of doing to win the title. It’s going to be a super difficult match.”

The closest Thiem has come to winning a slam was in Melbourne this year where he took Djokovic to five sets. Before that he had reached consecutive French Open finals and run into Nadal both times. He reeled away having barely left a dent in the Spaniard’s armour.

Now, for the first time, Thiem is the favourite; he is the man with the experience, he is the man who knows how those pre-final nerves feel and how best to overcome them. But will it be enough?

Andy Murray knew all about grand slam finals before he won one – he had lost four of them and he had tied himself up in knots trying to cope with the disappointment. It all worked out well in the end, though, and six weeks after his fourth defeat (to Federer in the Wimbledon final of 2012) he won the first of his two Olympic gold medals and ended the summer by winning in New York.

So, what of Thiem and his record in major finals? How has that affected him?

“It was all good so far,” he said. “Well, it’s easy for Andy because he has won three in the meantime. But that’s not what I’m thinking about Sunday. I just going to go in fully focused, like in all the six previous matches. Well, the world continues no matter what’s result is, so it’s going to be fine.

“Of course, I’m super happy that I gave myself another chance to be in the finals, pretty quick after Australia. Going to be a great one against a very good friend and a great rival.

“It’s nice that I’m in front in the head-to-head 7-2. When we both step on the court on Sunday, it doesn’t matter anymore. I mean, the moment we start the finals, we both want to win with everything we have. That’s all I focus on.

“A good record against Sascha, it doesn’t help me at all. I expect a very tough, very open match. I guess that’s what it’s going to be.”

He sounds cheery enough, then, and he seems to be brimming with confidence. Zverev is happy, too – he’s in the final; he should be chipper. But he knows that he has made life difficult for himself pretty much every time he has stepped on court in the past week and a half. Against Carreno Busta, it was not until the third set that he started to attack; if he gives Thiem that sort of head start, he will be in serious trouble.

“I looked at the scoreboard after two sets,” Zverev explained about his latest escape act. “I thought to myself, Look, I’m playing a grand slam semi-final, I’m down 6-3, 6-2 in a match where on paper I’m supposed to be the favourite.

“I needed to play better, start something new. I thought, Okay, I’m going to go set by set, we’ll see how far I can get. It turned out well in the end.”

The only real positive that he sounded sure about was that he kept on fighting, no matter how bad the score looked. It was certainly something to be proud of but it was hardly perfect preparation for his first major final, especially when compared to Thiem’s recent performances.

“Mentally I stayed in it,” Zverev said. “Even though I was down two sets to love, I stayed in it. I gave myself the best chance I could.

“I think a lot of players would have gone away. I knew, look, it’s a grand slam semi-final. There’s no easy matches anymore. Sometimes you have to big deep.

So, the two young guns are both ready to make their mark in the record books and claim their first grand slam title. But of the two, the older, more experienced Thiem seems the readier.