Sunday, September 13, 2020

Thiem Comes Back From Two Sets Down to Claim US Open Championship; Guarachi, Krawczyk and Krajicek Earn Pro Tour Doubles Titles

Dominic Thiem and Alexander Zverev played more than four hours in the men's US Open singles final today, a match that was full of twists and turns, good tennis and bad, drama and futility. It was fitting that it ended, after each player had served for the match in the fifth set, with a tiebreaker, the first in history to decide a men's singles final, with Thiem claiming the 2-6, 4-6, 6-4, 6-3, 7-6(6) victory.

Thiem was the heavy favorite going into the match. The 27-year-old Austrian had reached three previous grand slam finals, the most recent in Australia this year, had been more impressive throughout the two weeks in New York and was 7-2 against Zverev. But Zverev, at 23 the youngest men's slam finalist in the last decade, came out playing loose and aggressive, using is serve well and coming forward to finish points. 

Thiem was looking off, spraying balls and unimpressive on serve, but he dug in late in the second set, saving four set points while winning three straight games from 5-1 down and forcing Zverev to work for the hold at 5-4.

Zverev did go up a break early in the third set, but immediately gave the break back, and his court positioning, as well as his double faults, began to give Thiem opportunities. Although Thiem was standing extremely deep to return serve, once the rally started he headed for the baseline, while Zverev kept drifting farther and farther back. Thiem broke on his first set point, with Zverev serving at 4-5 to get to a fourth set, and he earned the only break of the fourth set with Zverev serving at 3-4 and held at love to even the match.

The fifth set started with an exchange of breaks, but five straight holds saw the tension continue to build. Serving at 3-4, Thiem was broken, but Zverev never got to match point when trying to serve it out. Thiem held, then broke Zverev again, but he could not get to match point either, serving at 6-5. 

The US Open men's singles title had never been decided by a fifth set tiebreaker in the 50 years that it has been used, so the circumstances were unique even before considering the eerie atmosphere created by the pandemic bubble. A packed Ashe Stadium with all the tension of the final handful of games would have been full of raucous cheers and support, but without that, the players and the dozens of spectators among their teams and the US Open staff were left to serve as witnesses to that historic tiebreaker.

Zverev looked the more nervous of the two, but it was Thiem, known for his fitness, who began struggling physically, with cramping appearing to the issue. Zverev chipped in with a couple of double faults, which took some of the pressure off Thiem, and when Thiem smoked a forehand pass by Zverev, he led 6-4. But he netted a forehand on the first one and sent a forehand wide on the second to give Zverev hope. But it was short-lived, as Thiem again sent a forehand pass by him after he couldn't put away several volleys, giving Thiem a third chance. This time, Thiem didn't need a winner, as Zverev hit a routine backhand wide, and Thiem had managed to capture his first slam title.

"I achieved a life goal," Thiem said in his press conference. "A dream of myself, which I had for many, many years. Of course, as a kid as well, when I started to play tennis, but back then, it's so far away. Then I got closer and closer to the top and I started to realize that, wow, maybe one day I can really win one of the four biggest titles in tennis. I put a lot of work in, basically dedicated my whole life to this point to win one of the four majors. And now I did it; that's also for myself a great accomplishment, it's not only myself, but also from my team, all my family and I guess it's also that today is the day that I gave back a huge amount of what they did for me."

Thiem, the first man born in the 1990s to win a slam title, is also the first in the Open era to win a US Open title coming from two sets down in the final. Only four other men have won a slam final from two sets down, all of those at the French Open.

As I noted yesterday, the clay season has been underway in Europe for some time, with the Italian Open main draw beginning tomorrow and two events crowning champions today. 

At the WTA International in Istanbul, unseeded Patricia Tig of Romania defeated qualifier Eugenie Bouchard of Canada 1-6, 6-1, 7-6(4) for the singles title.  Former collegians Alexa Guarachi(Alabama) of Chile and Desirae Krawczyk(Arizona State), the top seeds, won the women's doubles title, their second WTA title as a team, defeating No. 2 seeds Ellen Perez(Georgia) and Storm Sanders of Australia 6-1, 6-3 in the final. 

At the ATP 250 in Austria, Austin Krajicek(Texas A&M) won the the men's doubles title, with partner Franko Skugor of Croatia, their first title as a team. Krajicek and Skugor, the No. 4 seeds, defeated top seeds Marcel Granollers of Spain and Horacio Zeballos of Argentina 7-6(5), 7-5 in the final. It's the fourth ATP title for Krajicek and the sixth for Skugor. For more on today's final, see this article from the ATP website.

2016 ITF World Junior Champion Miomir Kecmanovic of Serbia claimed his first ATP title in Kitzbuhel Austria, defeating former USC All-American Yannick Hanfmann of Germany 6-4, 6-4 in the final. For more on Kecmanovic's title, see this article from the ATP website.