Dominic Thiem and Alexander Zverev are both looking to bag a breakthrough first Grand Slam title when they face off behind closed doors in the US Open final on Sunday.
It will be the 27-year-old Thiem’s fourth major tennis final and his second in a row after reaching the last-two in Australia this year, while Zverev, 23, is playing his first.
Thiem joked after his straight-sets semi-final victory over Daniil Medvedev that if he loses, he might have to contact a multiple-Slam winner who lost four finals before winning his first, and then going on to win two more.
“If I win, I have my first. If not, I probably have to call Andy Murray (about) how it is with zero,” the Austrian said ahead of the showdown inside Arthur Ashe Stadium.
Sunday’s showpiece brings to a close a US Open unlike any other — the coronavirus pandemic meant no fans have been allowed into Flushing Meadows and players have been tested for COVID-19 regularly.
This year’s field at the Billie Jean King US National Tennis Center in New York was also depleted by the absence of Swiss legend Roger Federer and defending champion Rafael Nadal.
The tournament was also blown wide open by the disqualification of world number one and heavy favorite Novak Djokovic in the last 16 for hitting a line judge with the ball.
It means the 2020 US Open will crown a first-time Grand Slam champion for the first time since Croatian Marin Cilic won at Flushing Meadows in 2014.
It also means a Grand Slam champion other than Djokovic, Nadal or Federer for the first time since Switzerland’s Stan Wawrinka won the third of his majors at the 2016 US Open.
For Thiem, also a runner-up at the French Open in 2018 and 2019, it is a golden opportunity to clinch that elusive first Slam title.
“It’s the biggest goal and also the biggest dream I have in my tennis career since a few years,” said Thiem, who lost in five sets to Djokovic in Melbourne this year.
“It was really tough to digest that loss in Australia as I was super close back then. I’m happy that I gave myself a pretty short time after that (for) another chance.”
Thiem is 7-2 against Zverev, with whom he says he has a “a great friendship and a great rivalry,” including a four-set win in the semi-finals during that run to the Melbourne finals.
Thiem admits there is “huge pressure,” with both he and Zverev “working very hard since a long time” to enter the pantheon of Slam champions.
“I expect a very tough, very open match,” said the world number three.
“His first serve is one of, if not, the best out there right now. It’s so fast, so precise. That will be a key point. Try to put many balls back in play.”
Zverev is the first German man to reach the final of a tennis major since Rainer Schuttler at the 2003 Australian Open.
He is also bidding to become the first German to win the US Open since Boris Becker in 1989.
Zverev has looked less convincing than Thiem throughout his run to the final, at times struggling with second serves and groundstroke forehands.
But he will be brimming with confidence after coming from two sets down for the first time in his career to beat Spain’s Pablo Carreno Busta and reach the final.
He also has, arguably, less to lose.
“I have a chance. I’m looking forward to it. I’m just excited about it,” said Zverev, the world number seven.