2020 was a season like no other. Click here to review the top moments from the pandemic-ravaged year.
It was bound to take something unprecedented to break up the dominance of Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic at the Grand Slams. As it happens, it took a few such things.
It took a pandemic, turning the tennis schedule upside down and convincing Nadal not to play the US Open. It took a second right knee surgery for Federer, sidelining him for the rest of the season. It took a default of the top seed at a Grand Slam for the first time ever, derailing Djokovic's campaign in the fourth round of Flushing Meadows.
And finally, it took a fifth-set tiebreaker for the first time ever in the final of the US Open.
Other than that, it was business as usual.
All the same, it could hardly have produced a more worthy new champion. Having already reached three Grand Slam finals, Dominic Thiem had long been regarded as the player who would make the breakthrough.
But he had faced some tough opponents in those Grand Slam finals—Nadal at the French Open, twice, and Djokovic at the Australian Open. But at the US Open, he had an even tougher foe: himself.
The 27-year-old Austrian was expected to win when he stepped on court against Alexander Zverev in the final, and it showed. Playing tentative and nervy tennis, he rapidly went down two sets against his 23-year-old opponent. But he dug in for the third, sending three racquets to be restrung in bold defiance of the scoreline. At that point, it was Zverev who increasingly got tight, and the two found themselves in a deciding set that made up in tension what it lacked in quality.
Zverev got the first break at 3-5, Thiem broke back for 5-5, and then another exchange of breaks followed, sending them into a tiebreaker—the first time it would be played in a US Open final. One of them would emerge as the first champion outside of the Big 3 and Andy Murray since Stanislas Wawrinka at the 2016 US Open; the newest first-time winner since Marin Cilic in 2014; and the only Slam champion on tour under 30 years old.
By this point, both players could hardly move. Thiem was cramping, Zverev was double faulting, and the points went erratically back and forth until the older, more experienced player found some final ounces of energy to clinch the match and the title.
During the trophy ceremony, the new champion said he would prefer it if there had been "two winners," but his victory was also one for the rest of the men's field.
Thiem had finally won his first Grand Slam. And perhaps just as significantly, a player—any player—had finally won a first men's Grand Slam singles title.