On Sunday, Dominic Thiem achieved his ultimate dream of winning a major trophy.
The Austrian became the first man in the Open Era to win the US Open from two sets down, dashing Alexander Zverev's hopes with a 2-6, 4-6, 6-4, 6-3, 7-6 (6) victory. It's a journey Thiem will surely appreciate, after finishing runner-up in his first three Grand Slam finals.
The ATP tour welcomed a new major winner for the first time since the 2014 US Open. Here's a trip down memory lane reviewing the five men who preceded Thiem in joining the Grand Slam winner's circle at Flushing Meadows.
2014 US Open: Marin Cilic
Prior to Flushing Meadows, Cilic came off reaching his first Wimbledon quarterfinal, pushing eventual champion Novak Djokovic to five sets. He had moderate success in New York with a pair of last eight appearances, and three of his defeats came at the hands of Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer and Andy Murray. However, he missed the event a year earlier after testing positive for nikethamide that summer.
In the round of 16, Cilic was forced to go the distance against Gilles Simon. He would fend off the Frenchman in five, before putting together a stunning trio of performances to win the title. He dismissed world No. 7 Tomas Berdych, then scored his first win in six attempts over Federer, a stunning 6-3, 6-4, 6-4 victory. Facing fellow first-time major finalist Kei Nishikori, the Croatian handled the occasion superbly, avenging his 2010 US Open defeat to deflate the Japanese star with his third successive straight-set win.
“I started to play absolutely unbelievable starting with the fifth set with Simon. After that I had unbelievable run of the matches against these top guys,” Cilic reflected in his post-final press conference. “And what it means to me, it means everything. It's just a huge accomplishment and huge moment for myself and for my team and for everybody around me who was with me all these years supporting me, believing in me and never giving up. So this is just the peak of the world.”
2012 US Open: Andy Murray
“I'm getting closer,” was the line of 2012 Wimbledon when Murray delivered a heart-tugging speech after dropping to 0-4 in Grand Slam finals and extending Great Britain's wait for its first male major champion since 1936. It was the Dunblane, Scotland native's first time appearing on men’s championship Sunday at the grass-court major, and his loss to Federer marked the first time he managed to win a set in a major title match.
The US Open held its own special place in Murray’s heart: he won the junior trophy in 2004 and four years later, ousted world No. 1 Rafael Nadal to get through to his first Slam final. In 2012, he entered with the boost of winning gold at the London Olympics and his route to the final included wins over Cilic and Berdych, who had eliminated the top-seeded Federer in the quarterfinals. Taking on reigning title holder Djokovic, Murray saw his two-set lead evaporate, but just like his coach Ivan Lendl, who also lost his first four major finals, got the major monkey off his back by prevailing in five—four hours and 54 minutes later.
“I was obviously very emotional. I cried a little bit on the court. You're not sad; you're incredibly happy,” he shared with press. “You're in a little bit of disbelief because when I have been in that position many times before and not won, you do think, ‘Is it ever going to happen?’ Then when it finally does, you you're very, very excited. Yeah, mainly relieved to have got over that, that last hurdle.”
2009 US Open: Juan Martin del Potro
The previous year at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, Del Potro had the hottest hand on the grounds. The Argentine entered on the back of winning four consecutive tournaments and proved he could translate that success to best of five, advancing to his first major quarterfinal for his 23rd straight win.
It set up Del Potro for even greater success in 2009: his first Australian Open quarterfinal and French Open semifinal soon followed. When he returned to the Big Apple, the Tower of Tandil stood taller than he had ever before, and in the process, achieved a milestone no one had before him: defeating Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer in the same major. After conceding just six games to a compromised Nadal in the semifinals, Del Potro was two points away from finishing runner-up in four sets, yet found a way to rise above in overturning a 0-6 record against the Swiss and snap Federer’s five-title streak at the event.
“[To] beat Roger for the first time here in my favorite Grand Slam, and [from] two sets to one down, [is] everything, I think it's the best final ever in my life, of course,” declared Del Potro. “ I did my dream, and it's [an] unbelievable moment. It's [an] amazing match, amazing people. Everything is perfect.”
His first splurge as major champion? “Cheesecake for my birthday.”
2003 US Open: Andy Roddick
Roddick didn’t have a major title to his name yet, but was a perennial contender after tearing up the North American hard courts. He took 20 of 21 matches in the summer of 2003, winning Indianapolis ahead of successive ATP Masters 1000 triumphs in Montreal and Cincinnati. His only loss came to Tim Henman in the semifinals of Washington, so naturally, Roddick drew the Brit—ranked No. 33 and unseeded at a Slam for the first time since the 1996 US Open—in the first round.
Roddick would clear his first difficult hurdle with plenty of margin, and after handling another tough unseeded foe, Ivan Ljubicic in four sets, progressed to the final four with relative ease. There, he found himself down two sets to David Nalbandian and in the third set tiebreaker, stepped to the line facing a match point. The Argentine prematurely guessed T in the ad court, as Roddick’s booming serve handcuffed his backhand. From that point on, the tournament was the American’s. Roddick would swiftly carve up Nalbandian in the final two sets and outclassed 2003 French Open winner Juan Carlos Ferrero in straights—fittingly closing out his greatest fortnight with an ace.
“I can't imagine my name and US Open champion together. It's more than I could ever dream of,” said Roddick. “I don't play for what people might say or what people will say. I play for myself. I play for the people that I love and that share in the joy that I get out of it. You can't be scared of what's gonna be written about you or what's gonna be said. I could come here, lose first round next year, and people would say, ‘I was lucky, I was that.’ Bottom line is I'm a pretty good player and I just won a Grand Slam.”
2001 US Open: Lleyton Hewitt
As the final major of the 2001 season approached, Hewitt was already knocking at the door. The tenacious Australian had a US Open semifinal showing under his belt, nine ATP titles in the bag and cracked the Top 5 by the time he was 20. While he didn’t possess any show-stopping weapons with his racquet, Hewitt’s competitive fire and return game more than made up for it.
He was on the ropes in the second round against James Blake, and though he would rally in five, the comeback is best remembered for questions about whether Hewitt’s complaints regarding a pair of foot fault calls were racially motivated. Hewitt denied the claims in post-match press, putting the incident behind him. Having survived another five-set encounter against another home favorite, Roddick, in the last eight, Hewitt saved his best for last. He destroyed two-time Slam champion Yevgeny Kafelinkov in the semifinals, losing just four games, and exacted revenge on the man who beat him the year prior in New York, Pete Sampras, posting a pair of 6-1 sets to finish in style.
“I've looked forward to this moment. It's something that you dream of doing, walking out there and playing in a Grand Slam final, playing that seventh match of two weeks,” Hewitt expressed afterwards. “I didn't want to let the chance sort of slip by, that's for sure. I was definitely up for the match. I felt I'd been getting better and better each match that I played.”