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Dream Thiem: Austrian Accomplishes Grand Slam Goal With US Open Tennis Comeback Against Zverev

By Ricky Dimon

Dominic Thiem’s first Grand Slam title was never going to come easy–even if it wasn’t going to come against Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer, or Novak Djokovic.

Thiem triumphed at a major for the first time in his career in his fourth major final on Sunday evening, outlasting Alexander Zverev in a tougher-than-expected final that lasted four hours and one minute. It was even more difficult than the 2-6, 4-6, 6-4, 6-3, 7-6(6) scoreline indicates, as the Austrian trailed two sets to love and by a break in the third before staging his incredible comeback.

With that, a dream that looked like it would be deferred for at least another month instead exploded into reality.

“When I first realized that maybe one day I could really win a major was when I first broke into the semis of Roland Garros (in 2016), when I broke into top 10,” Thiem said. “From that moment on I dreamed about it. I thought that it’s maybe realistic.

“Yeah, definitely I achieved a life goal — a dream of myself, which I had for many, many years; of course as a kid when I started to play tennis. But back then it’s so far away. Then I got closer and closer to the top. At one point I realized, ‘Wow, maybe one day I can really win one of the four biggest titles in tennis.’

“I put a lot of work in. I mean, I dedicated basically my whole life until this point to win one of the four majors. Now I did it.”

For an hour and a half it looked like Thiem would yet again fall short. Instead of winning one of the four, he appeared to be on his way to a 0-4 record in Grand Slam finals. The 27-year-old had previously lost to Nadal in a pair of French Open championships (2018, 2019) and to Djokovic in a five-set Australian Open final earlier this season.

Now he was losing to Zverev, a first-time major finalist. The 23-year-old German played some of his best tennis of the fortnight for two-plus sets, but the mental hiccups crept up with the finish line in sight.

“Obviously being two sets to love and a break up in a Grand Slam final then losing is not easy,” Zverev admitted. “The match turned when he broke me for the first time in the third set. I think he started playing much better and I started playing much worse. That’s when the match turned. But I still had plenty of chances after that.”

When Thiem finally broke Zverev for the first time to get back on level terms in the third set at 2-2, the match was on. The No. 2 seed mostly rolled thereafter through the third and the fourth sets, setting the stage for an excruciatingly tense fifth. The two competitors took turns leading by a break, with Thiem breaking right away for 1-0 before Zverev eventually served for the title at 5-3. Thiem also served for the match at 6-5, but fittingly it had to be a tiebreaker that would decide it.

With both men struggling physically and mentally, what the ‘breaker lacked in quality of play it delivered 10 times over in drama. Thiem missed two championship points at 6-4 and 6-5–the latter after Zverev blooped a 68 MPH second serve centimeters over the net–but gave himself another chance with a clutch forehand pass at 6-6. This time he converted when the seventh-ranked German sent a backhand wide to end it.

“For me what upset me the most is not the third set; it’s the fifth set,” the world No. 7 lamented. “I had a lot of chances in the fifth set and didn’t use them…. I was cramping in the tiebreaker, really. My left quad was cramping; I couldn’t push off anymore. I couldn’t actually hit the first serve anymore. So, yeah, that was the reason (for taking speed off my serve).”

“I was super close to being a Grand Slam champion. I was a few games away; maybe a few points away…. I mean, I’m 23 years old. I don’t think it’s my last chance. I do believe that I will be a Grand Slam champion at some point.”

Having previously lost three slam finals (albeit to Nadal twice and Djokovic once), Thiem’s belief was beginning to waver.

“Honestly, I think [major finals experience] didn’t help me at all because I was so tight in the beginning,” the world No. 3 admitted. “Maybe it was not even good that I played in previous major finals. I mean, I wanted this title so much, and of course there was also in my head that if I lose this one, it’s 0-4 (for me in major finals). It’s always in your head: ‘Is this chance ever coming back again?’”

Well, the chance did come back. And this time, finally, he took it.

Ricky contributes to10sballs.com and also maintains his own tennis website, The Grandstand. You can follow him on twitter at @Dimonator.