In historic fashion, Thiem edges Zverev in 5 for first Slam at US Open

In historic fashion, Thiem edges Zverev in 5 for first Slam at US Open

This was the first-ever US Open final to be decided with a fifth-set tiebreak.

8:19 PM: Dominic Thiem comes from two sets down to beat Alexander Zverev at the US Open—and win his first Grand Slam title—2-6, 4-6, 6-4, 6-3, 7-6 (6)

Here's how the historic tiebreaker transpired:

Zverev double faults at 2-1—and follows it with a giant, unreturned serve for 3-2.

The German runs around his backhand—the same way he broke Thiem in the previous game—but this forehand goes long. 3-3.

Thiem follows the error with a bomb serve for 4-3. Still on serve.

Then, Zverev's second-serve woe, often mentioned in pressure moments, rears its head. He double faults and serves at 3-5. Another second serve comes—but this time, he wins the point, keeping Thiem within reach.

At 5-4, an all-court point is played. Zverev appears to have Thiem on the run, but he recovers, setting up a forehand pass for double match point.

On his first match point, Thiem hits a big forehand crosscourt, moving Zverev out of position, but he put the short forehand down the line into the net.

Returning at 5-6, Thiem sees a 68 m.p.h. Zverev second serve. He doesn't do much with it, but he eventually gets a look an another forehand down the line. It's not as clean as his last opportunity, and he puts the shot wide. 6-6.

On that point, Zverev comes to net and does well to hit two volleys back, but Thiem passes him for a third championship point.

The third time was a charm in this match—and the fourth time was a charm in Grand Slam finals. Dominic Thiem, 2020 US Open champion, and major titlist for the first time.

Per the USTA: Thiem is the first player to come from two sets down in the championship match to win since American Richard "Pancho" Gonzales defeated countryman Fred Schroeder Jr., 16-18, 2-6, 6-1, 6-2, 6-4, in 1949. This was also the first-ever US Open championship match to be decided with a fifth-set tiebreak.

More to come.


8:08 PM—Thiem can't close, and Thiem's time, for now, becomes tiebreak time.

They've both won two sets, and they've both had a chance to serve for the final set.

I know everyone says this when there's a final-set tiebreaker, but this match deserves to be decided in one. Thiem and Zverev have each had their moments, and each had their lapses. Now they each have a chance to win a tiebreaker for their first Grand Slam title.

I bet if you asked each man that, they'd take the opportunity.


8:02—Dominic Thiem breaks, and will serve for the US Open at 6-5.

As the clock struck 8:00 PM, Zverev wins the 15-30 point (after a slow second serve just stayed in) with an incredible volley sequence. But he gives Thiem a break point with a weak backhand into the net.

Zverev opts for a heavy inside-out forehand to try and end the next point, but it travels well long.

It's Thiem's time, if he can hold here.


7:57 PM—Zverev gets to within two points before Thiem plays three exceptional points. It's 5-5 in the fifth.

Zverev gets to within two points of the championship for the first time at 15-30. Thiem proceeds to smack an unreturned serve and then, perhaps hit just as hard, strikes a forehand that grazes the line.

If that wasn't enough, Thiem closes the game out with a running forehand pass that generates his biggest reaction of the evening.


7:51 PM—Zverev can't close it out, as Thiem breaks when he absolutely had to.

With "Under Pressure" playing inside Arthur Ashe Stadium, Zverev sits on the changeover having just let a service game slip, with the US Open title in reach. He falls behind 15-40, saves one break point, but volleys into the net at 30-40.

We play on, Thiem now serving at 4-5.


7:49 PM—Alexander Zverev breaks, and will serve for the US Open at 5-3.

What do you know—Zverev comes to the net, and he elicits a Thiem error at 0-15.

At 0-30, Zverev approaches after a series of big forehands. He makes Thiem win a difficult exchange with an overhead hit while retreating.

At 15-30, Zverev comes forward again, but loses the point.

But the pressure eventually paid off. On Zverev's first break point of the game, he comes to net, and Thiem's backhand strays well wide.

Now comes some pressure—serving for your first Grand Slam title, fans or no fans.


7:42 PM—Zverev holds for 4-3 in the fifth.

I don't know why an exchange of backhand slices invariably draws laughs from a crowd, but it does.

This US Open, though, is no laughing matter.

It's been all holds since a pair of breaks began the fifth set, a testament to both players' form. Again, with just 3:25 having elapsed, neither man should feel taxed, even Zverev, who won a five-set semi.

Zverev finishes the game like he started the match—coming to net. A huge yell follows. Thiem will serve from behind, another tennis-ism that is always brought up in deciding sets. We'll see if it makes a difference.


7:38 PM—Thiem holds for 3-3 in the fifth.

From 0-30, Thiem plays three aggressive points, then fires an ace, to avert disaster.

The scene in Queens, in the fifth set of a Grand Slam final:


7:31 PM–Zverev holds for 3-2 in the fifth.

A game that included a 71 m.p.h. double fault ends with a 131 m.p.h. ace.


7:27 PM—Thiem holds for 2-2.

There have been a few pick-up volleys and lovely passes that would have gotten quite a reaction had circumstances been different. The crowd, what it is, has responded well.


7:23 PM—Zverev holds; we're on serve at 2-1.


7:17 PM—It's 1-1 in the fifth—after two breaks.

Are we witnessing the reverse of Zverev's semifinal win over Pablo Carreno Busta, in which he lost the first two sets routinely but, without much drama, collected the last three?

I thought we were, after Thiem easily broke Zverev to begin the fifth. But Zverev responded with a break of his own, punctuated by his loudest (and only?) "Let's go!" of the match. His coaching box, right behind him, responded in kind (in French)—all after a Thiem double fault.

A point earlier, Thiem was on the receiving end of a gorgeous down-the-line backhand pass at deuce; that also got Zverev and his team going. There's a noticeable energy in Arthur Ashe Stadium that was lacking over the match's first four sets.


7:08 PM—A netcord turns a point in Thiem's favor, and it turns a one-time rout into a five-set final.

From the beginning, I felt this was Thiem's match to lose. But when Thiem lost the first two sets, that burden became Zverev's.

I don't believe Zverev has capitulated to any added pressure—despite some slowpoke seconds, he's still serving well, overall—but any mistake or missed opportunity is magnified.

At 40-30, Zverev fired a forehand down the line that caught the net cord; the ball sat up enough for Thiem to make a winning pass from well behind the baseline. It was a crucial, unlucky event, for Zverev would eventually surrender the break with a forehand error. (This time, a slow second serve was punished.)

A love hold from Thiem later, and this US Open final, once seemingly over in straights, is now going the distance.

A troubling trend for Zverev could continue: the four sets took just under three hours to complete, so Thiem—whose play today is peaking—isn't likely to be feeling it physically.


6:50 PM—Slow and steady, Zverev holds on, holding serve for 3-3.

Thiem just gets a deep return back in, and just gets a slice to cross over the net. It's all part of the match's best point, which he wins to earn two break points.

But Zverev takes them both, the second after an 83 m.p.h. second serve. He wins another second-serve point at deuce (76 m.p.h. second serve), and the ad point after an 81 m.p.h. second serve. It's on Thiem to make Zverev pay for that lack of speed.


6:46 PM—Thiem holds at love.


6:40 PM—No breaks of serve, but Thiem has found an edge.

We joked about Thiem's return position, but Zverev has been pretty content to glide behind the baseline himself. In the first two sets, Zverev came to net 28 times, winning 22 of those points. In the third set, he approached just eight times—and won seven points.

Thiem's improved play has prevented some of Zverev's offensive opportunities, but the German can still choose to be more aggressive. It was a winning strategy; we'll see if he returns to it.

Both players hold their first two service games of the fourth set, with Thiem up next.


6:26 PM—We're going to a fourth set.

It hasn't exactly been a high-quality final, so it was fitting that Thiem extended the match after a truly ugly Zverev service game. Style points don't matter, though, and Thiem, who looked cooked not long ago, takes advantage of his opponent's letdown.

Neither player is giving anything away on the emotional front—it's like watching the final table of the World Series of Poker.

We play on.


6:22 PM—Thiem holds on with a tough hold.

At 30-30, Thiem hit a forehand down the line that I was sure landed out. But my vantage point (see last post) deceived me; Hawk-Eye called it juuuuuuust in.

It staved off a break point that never came Zverev's way. In the third set, Thiem is unquestionably playing better, but he's still far from his normal level, with nine winners and 15 unforced errors. Most importantly, he's cleaned up his serve; not every hold has been a struggle. I'd call that last one a mini-struggle in a major moment.

Zverev to serve at 4-5.


6:16 PM—Crunch time: 4-4 in the third.

After an exchange of holds, Zverev reaches game point at 40-30. Thiem wins it with a backhand taken out of the air, to the delight of one-handed fans everywhere. Two points later, Thiem overcooks a forehand.


5:58 PM—Thiem, returning the ball next to my laptop, breaks back.

Best of luck finding the Austrian in this photo:

Nonetheless, Thiem breaks Zverev on his fourth chance of the 1-2 game. This return position doesn't seem sustainable, for reasons I mentioned earlier, but it will be up to Zverev to make Thiem pay for it.

Thiem's form remains scratchy, and Zverev is still blistering the ball on serve and with his backhand. But after a rare carefree hold for Thiem, Zverev trails 2-3 in the third set (on serve).


5:48 PM—Worst. Final. Ever?

If this was a boxing match, we'd be watching Nicolas Massu, Thiem's coach, to see if he was about to throw in the towel. Luckily for Thiem, he's only taken figurative punches, and this is a best-of-five.

But it still looks ugly for the Austrian, who is trying to avoid losing his first four Grand Slam singles finals. After saving two break points from 15-40, Thiem ends yet another service game with an ugly error.

Surely frustrated, Thiem isn't outwardly showing it—and unfortunately for him, there's no crowd to help him out.

Zverev will serve at 2-1.


5:36 PM—Down two sets, Thiem is running out of time.

Remember what I said Zverev did in his last service game at 0-15? He does the same thing at 0-15 at 5-4. And the net foray wins him the point, stopping Thiem's momentum.

At 30-30, Zverev comes to the net again, this time after a huge serve down the T. He puts away a forehand.

At 40-30, Zverev hits another kick serve, fakes an approach, but comes forward after his next shot, a backhand down the line. It's the kind of the pressure that, right now, Thiem isn't handling well.

And Zverev, after one hour and 20 minutes, is a set away from his first Slam.


5:28 PM—Zverev throws away a set point, giving Thiem an unlikely lifeline.

At 40-30, Zverev approaches the net off a strong first serve and flubs a sitter volley wide. He pays for it—thanks in part to a double fault that followed—when Thiem breaks for the first time all match.

That's two consecutive games in which Zverev probably should have closed out this set.

One point about that game: I loved Zverev's play at 0-15. With Thiem practically returning from backboard, Zverev came to the  after a kick serve, forcing Dominic to hit a perfect backhand pass. It's not even close to good enough. Thiem is certainly capable of rediscovering his rhythm, but the more uncomfortable Zverev can make him, the harder that will be.

And the more time Thiem is given, the more likely it is that he will rediscover it. He's too good not to.

As I write that, Thiem holds with ease, and Zverev will now serve at 5-4, thankful for the insurance break.


5:22 PM—Thiem saves three set points on serve, but has a long road back in this set.

Zverev to serve for a two-set lead at 5-2.


5:14 PM—The scene in Queens:

Like yesterday's women's final, Arthur Ashe Stadium has its biggest crowd of the fortnight, with tournament workers and essential staff filling plenty of seats behind the baseline you don't often see on TV.


5:09 PM—Dominic Thiem's dismal performance continues.

A routine forehand into the net. A forehand that couldn't have landed further from the net. It's been a confounding sight for Thiem, who, 55 minutes in, is down a set and a double break to Zverev.

The German hasn't needed to be spectacular on the ground, considering Thiem's self-destruction on so many points—he has 17 unforced errors, and nine in the second set. He continues to score on serve, having won 21 of 23 first-serve points.

Zverev is winning the short points and the long ones, and that usually equates to the one-way traffic we're witnessing here.


5:07 PM—In just over 50 minutes, Alexander Zverev is halfway home.

The tennis definition of "halfway," of course, can change. If Thiem can turn around this set, he and Zverev would both be 100 percent of the way from their first major title.

But for now, Zverev has won a set, and has won half the number of games needed to win a second—with a break lead. He's still serving brilliantly, and Thiem continues to struggle in nearly every aspect of his game.


4:46 PM—Zverev closes out the set, 6-2, with another strong serving display.

The No. 5 seed won 92 percent of his first-serve points (12 of 13) and didn't give Thiem a single break-point chance.

As winners and unforced errors go, Zverev had 16 and 6; Thiem 4 and 8.


4:42 PM—Thiem continues to leak on serve, and the first set may soon be in the books.

Is Thiem tight? Serving at 4-2, he's broken after a pair of double faults and a game-ending forehand error.

Something to consider: After Djokovic's default, Thiem is probably the only opponent Zverev could have faced in the final that would face more pressure than him. If Zverev plays anyone else—including Daniil Medvedev, I believe—this match becomes the moment he has to seize. But that burden's on Thiem, with Zverev freed from significant pressure.

Zverev will serve for the first set at 5-2.


4:34 PM—Thiem's serve is being tested early.

The first break of the match goes to Zverev, who has the height and reach, with his two-handed backhand, to handle Thiem's heavy spin. Think of how Novak Djokovic can counter Rafael Nadal, without the lefty-righty difference.

After a pair of holds, Zverev breaks Thiem for 2-1, then gets to 0-30 on his next return game. Thiem would end up holding after deuce, but it's a nice start for Zverev, who has dropped the first set three times this tournament.


NEW YORK—Of all the twists that 2020 has given us, Alexander Zverev defeating Dominic Thiem wouldn't register high on the majority of humans' lists. But for tennis fans, it would be a significant moment.

The German is 2-7 against the Austrian, and has won their last three encounters, two of which came at Grand Slams. Their last meeting was an exceedingly competitive contest, a 3-6, 6-4, 7-6 (3), 7-6 (4) Thiem victory in the Australian Open semifinals. It these two shotmakers can replicate what we saw in Melbourne, fans at large will be the winners, regardless of the result.

But the actual winner? Based on their respective play at the US Open, Thiem should be an even bigger favorite over Zverev than usual—the bookmakers certainly think so, for what it's worth. Still, this is 2020. Maybe there's another twist in store.

Stay tuned for live updates from Arthur Ashe Stadium.