2020 U.S. Open: Men’s Final Preview

How to watch: Starting at 4 p.m. Eastern time on ESPN in the United States; and streaming on the ESPN app.

On Sunday, Dominic Thiem and Alexander Zverev will meet in the final of the United States Open. They last met at the Australian Open in the semifinals, with Thiem emerging victorious in four sets. Each is chasing his first Grand Slam title, even after years of consistently being in the top 10.

Zverev, ranked No. 7 in the world and seeded fifth in this tournament, is just 23 and already has a ATP Tour Finals championship under his belt, having won the tournament in 2018. For all of his success, this will be Zverev’s first Grand Slam final.

Zverev, a tall, lanky player, is the next logical iteration of the Novak Djokovic school of tennis. Had he played 30 years ago, Zverev would have been coached as a lumbering giant with a big serve, constantly driving toward the net. Now, the mind-set of many players in the younger generation is that you can learn to move well, no matter your size. Zverev is entirely comfortable staying deep behind the baseline and engaging in long rallies with his opponents.

Credit…Chang W. Lee/The New York Times

For Zverev, the path to a first Grand Slam final has been, at times, uninspiring. Problems with consistency have haunted his game, particularly his service motion. In his semifinal match against Pablo Carreño Busta, he lost the first two sets quickly and made fewer than 60 percent of his first serves. By the fifth set, Zverev had settled down and was landing 75 percent of his first serves. That same pattern held for his groundstroke rallies, with eight unforced errors off his usually stalwart backhand in the first set; in the fifth, he made no unforced errors from that wing. If Zverev is going to have a chance at beating Thiem, he will need to find a groove early on and not allow the Austrian to unsettle him.

Thiem, ranked No. 3 and seeded second, is in his fourth Grand Slam final, but his first not facing one of the Big Three — Djokovic, Roger Federer or Rafael Nadal. Asked if that would change his mentality going into the final, Thiem said it would not. “I know what Sascha is capable of,” he said of Zverev.

Thiem had not been expected to do so well as the tournament started. He had just lost in the second round of the Western & Southern Open, a warm-up for the U.S. Open. A video released by the United States Tennis Association of a practice session days before the U.S. Open showed him smashing a racket.

Thiem seemed to gain confidence as he progressed through the U.S. Open. He needed four sets to push past the 31st seed, Marin Cilic, but then blitzed past Felix Auger-Aliassime and Alex de Minaur, two promising young players.

In the semifinals against Daniil Medvedev, who reached the U.S. Open final last year, Thiem played well, and with intelligence. Knowing that his usual playing style would suit the lanky Russian, Thiem instead opted to constantly shift his shot selection, drawing Medvedev out of his comfort zone.

That same strategy could be employed today to coax errors out of Zverev. An Achilles’ tendon injury sustained in the semifinal may harm Thiem’s movement, but he did not seem overly concerned after the match.

No matter who wins, men’s tennis will have its first new major champion since 2014, when Cilic won the U.S. Open. Perhaps this will usher in a new era; it should at least be a good opening chapter.

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