September 14, 2020
Dominic Thiem won a psychological thriller of the highest dramatic quality to lift his first Grand Slam title.
The record-books were rewritten – and not just because a man born in the 1990s won a major instead of Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal or Novak Djokovic.
Thiem became the first man to come back from two sets down to win the US Open since Pancho Gonzales in 1949.
This was also the first US Open ever won in a fifth-set tie-break. And Thiem became the first Austrian to win the tournament.
It’s fair to say this was a ground-breaking triumph all round, then.
Unsurprisingly there were unforgettable scenes at the end of an emotionally exhausting 2-6, 4-6, 6-4, 6-3, 7-6 (8-6) epic.
Thiem lay flat on his back and covered his face to cope with the relief and perhaps even disbelief he was feeling.
Poor Sascha Zverev congratulated his friend manfully but was soon in tears after coming so close.
But there was a promising consolation for Sascha, one that might not yet have crossed his mind.
The tactics Zverev used mean he has a great chance to go far at Wimbledon 2021.
He served and volleyed fearlessly. He attacked the net like a natural grass-court winner.
For the first two sets this approach was so successful that most of us simply watched open-mouthed in admiration.
Few had given Zverev much chance in this final. How wrong we were. He played almost perfect tennis in the opening set.
Having seen how Sascha can play, flicking volleys and half-volleys over the net from around his ankles, we have probably just watched a future Wimbledon champion developing his craft.
Sure, he can improve some of those volleys. There is always something to work on. But that’s just it.
The tennis in this final was both awesome and gloriously flawed. Both players were incredible one moment and wasteful the next.
The twists and turns almost brought Thiem to a standstill, before he finally limped over the line.
Zverev was two sets up and served for the match in the fifth. He probably should have won.
Thiem clawed his way back, but seemed to be running on empty at the death. How he summoned enough energy to triumph, no one knows.
Zverev must have seen that his friend was there for the taking. Somehow he couldn’t find the ruthlessness he needed.
The 23-year-old German is growing stronger, but couldn’t quite handle the pressure of the tie-break.
While Sascha double-faulted twice in the breaker, Thiem served his fastest serve of the entire match at 132mph.
On such key moments are Grand Slams won and lost. No wonder British legend Greg Rusedski suggested that Zverev needs to employ a sports psychologist.
Tennis is such an intensely and wonderfully psychological game that it would be folly for any player at the highest level to neglect sports psychology.
But players will always be human. And this showpiece fed off the dramatic beauty of mental, physical and technical imperfections.
The subplot was all about friendship. And this was never more evident than in the post-match speeches. Domi truly felt for his younger rival.
Thiem said to Sascha: ‘It’s amazing how our journey has brought us here and I really wish there were two winners. You will definitely bring it home one day.’
Looking ahead to next year, when Grand Slam events will enjoy some normality, Domi added: ‘We all deserve a normal 2021 and this is the wish of everybody.’
He couldn’t finish without addressing his fans back in Austria, particularly his family.
He concluded: ‘I love you all at home, and I hope my grandparents made it through the final.’
Zverev had begun his speech by paying tribute to Thiem. He predicted: ‘The first of many Grand Slam titles I think. I wish you could have missed a bit more so that I was lifting that trophy. But here I am, giving the runner-up speech.
‘There are some special people missing from the crowd today, for one thing my parents…’
At that point, Sascha broke down, fighting back the tears as he confirmed the pandemic had struck his own family.
He explained: ‘My mother and father tested positive before the tournament and couldn’t come with me but I know they’re watching and I wish one day they can see me lift the trophy.’
We think Zverev will lift the trophy at Wimbledon one day soon, too.
And why shouldn’t Thiem also go deep at Wimbledon 2021, with all his versatility?
It’s exciting to imagine the confidence that a first Grand Slam title will give Domi going forward.
The tennis world can now be more confident too. Grand Slams are back up and running. The French Open is just around the corner – with spectators.
We can’t wait for the months to pass so that we can welcome the crowds back to Wimbledon 2021.
With so many young players improving and the legends still in the fight, it really is shaping up to be the greatest Wimbledon ever.