At a US Open unlike any other, Dominic Thiem constructed a comeback the likes of which hadn’t been seen in 71 years.
After dropping the opening two sets against Alexander Zverev at a nearly empty Arthur Ashe Stadium — fans were banned because of the coronavirus pandemic — Thiem slowly but surely turned things around for a 2-6, 4-6, 6-4, 6-3, 7-6(8/6) victory across more than four hours to earn his first major championship.
The 27-year-old from Austria is the first man to win the American grand slam tournament after trailing 2-0 in sets in the final since Pancho Gonzalez did it against Ted Schroeder in 1949 at an event then known as the US Championships.
In a fitting finish to an unprecedented two weeks, this match was decided by a fifth-set tiebreaker, something that has never happened in the final.
When it ended on a groundstroke flubbed by Zverev, a weary Thiem collapsed on his back way behind the baseline. Zverev — who himself came within two points of the victory — walked around the net to offer a handshake and hug to his pal, two gestures rarely spotted in this era of social distancing.
Thiem had come in 0-3 in grand slam finals, but always came up against Rafael Nadal or Novak Djokovic in those others.
This time, he was the favourite and came out jittery, but eventually worked his way out of that, while Zverev went from cool and confident to passive and pushed around.
The fifth set was just as back-and-forth as the other four; the mistakes rising with the tension and the history in the offing.