The year’s last Grand Slam couldn’t have ended on a better note. Two best players in the men’s draw battling it out for their first Grand Slam title.
Though shorn of spectators, the finale on the closing day produced exciting, knife-edge tennis and, at the end of a match that oscillated both ways, a new champion was crowned.
While World No.3 Austrian Dominic Thiem went into the final following a straight-set win in the last-4 tie, his opponent, 7th-ranked German Alexander Zverev survived a tense five-setter against Spaniard Pablo Carreno Busta in the semi-final. Though the finalists made the title-round in contrasting fashion, neither went into the finale with a clear advantage as they didn’t have the experience of playing a Grand Slam before the Sunday showdown.
However, it was the German who hit ground running in the title-decider. Showing no fatigue from his five-set win in the semi-final win, Sascha, as he is nicknamed, seemed to be in a hurry as he broke the Austrain’s serve and outskilled him to take the opening set 6-2. The second set followed a similar trajectory as the Zverev claimed another service break off the Austrain and maintained a high level of intensity to win it 6-4.
Up two sets, the German had one hand on the trophy, or, so he thought. Not willing to raise the white flag, the Austrian came out all guns blazing and gave the German some of his own back, breaking his serve and claiming the third set 6-4.
As with women’s champion Naomi Osaka, who came from a set down to get the better of Belarussian Victoria Azarenka, the Austrian took the head of steam he had built through the third set into the fourth, wary not to yield a quarter to his opponent. He broke the German’s serve again and won the fourth set by an even better margin of 6-3.
With the momentum well and truly with his opponent, Sascha regained his composure and did mount a determined effort for a glory run in the final set. But the Austrian stayed on the German’s heels, matching him shot for shot. Thd result was that neither was able to break the other’s serve and were locked at 6-6 in the deciding set. A rare final at the Flushing Meadows that had stretched to five sets was to be now decided by a tie-breaker, the first time in the tournament’s history.
As with the set, the tie-breaker, too, was fiercely fought until the Austrian brought up match-point with a forehand winner after an eight-shot rally. The crowning moment arrived as a backhand from the German fell wide. The Austrian sank to his knees in joyous relief.
Asked what it means for him to win his maiden Grand Slam, Thiem said, “Definitely I achieved a life goal, a dream of myself, which I had for many, many years.”
It was perhaps, fitting, that a major, which marked so many firsts this year, crowned a champion after a rare five-setter.