Sheer Austrian magic
FINAL: THIEM OUTLASTS ZVEREV TO SET UP SHOWDOWN WITH DJOKOVIC
Tireless Dominic Thiem came from a set down to outlast German Alexander Zverev and make his first Australian Open final yesterday, booking a showdown with seven-time champion Novak Djokovic.
The 26-year-old fifth seed, the first player from Austria ever to reach the Melbourne decider, battled past seventh-ranked Zverev 3-6, 6-4, 7-6 (7/3), 7-6 (7/4) on a sweltering evening.
Defending champion Djokovic awaits him after the second seed ended Roger Federer’s dreams in straight sets on Thursday to make his eighth Melbourne Park final.
Thiem has his work cut out against the Serb who is on a 12-match unbeaten streak this season and has won all seven of the Australian Open deciders he has contested.
And if Djokovic needs extra motivation, winning on Sunday will see him reclaim the world No 1 ranking after Rafael Nadal crashed to Thiem in the last eight.
“It was an unreal match, two tie-breakers, so tough and so close. It was almost impossible to break him,” said Thiem.
“Being in the Australian Open final is unreal. What a start to the season for me.”
Thiem had dealt with semifinal pressure before, although always on the slower red clay at Roland Garros, where he reached the past two finals only to be beaten by Nadal.
That experience paid dividends as he coolly closed out the match after three hours and 42 mins to give himself another chance to break the stranglehold of the “Big Three” and win his first Grand Slam.
“I played for over four hours against Rafa (in the quarterfinals), who is the most intense guy on tour, almost always so intense and long,” Thiem said.
“So it was not easy to recover. But all the adrenalin came once I walked into the full stadium and I was fine, actually, but still I had some troubles in the first set.”
A jittery Thiem was broken in the opening game, saving two break points before sending a backhand wide to immediately be on the back foot.
Both players were nervous and the German failed to consolidate, broken straight back.
Their momentum was interrupted when rain began falling and the roof needed closing, but it was only a brief intermission and Zverev resumed to hold for 2-2.
Zverev took command, putting 90% of his booming first serves in, and broke again to seal the set. Zverev managed to break back but he was too erratic as Thiem broke again and clung on, firing an ace to take set two.
Thiem held serve and then broke with an epic backhand winner as Zverev again lost concentration. Thiem is one of the best returners in the game and was getting almost every ball back. There was little between them in the crucial fourth set as they traded blows.
It went to serve and another tie-breaker when Thiem’s experience helped him over the line. – AFP
THAT’S IT. Austria’s Dominic Thiem celebrates after victory against Germany’s Alexander Zverev in their semi-final at the Australian Open in Melbourne yesterday.