Thiem beats Zverev to reach first Open fi­nal

Antelope Valley Press - - NUMBERS GAME - By HOWARD FEN­DRICH

MEL­BOURNE, Aus­tralia — Locked in an even-as-canbe Aus­tralian Open semi­fi­nal, Dominic Thiem looked up at his guest box, pat­ted his belly and stuck out his tongue, as if to in­di­cate he was feel­ing sick. He shook his head. He winced.

What­ever might have been go­ing on, Thiem turned out to be just fine — well enough to play, well enough to win.

The 26-year-old Aus­trian reached his third Grand Slam fi­nal over­all and first at Mel­bourne Park by us­ing his base­line bul­ly­ing and big-mo­ment bravado to beat Alexan­der Zverev 3-6, 6-4, 7-6 (3), 7-6 (4) on Fri­day night.

“I was feel­ing nerves, I think. I was putting so much en­ergy, so much ef­fort in, so my stom­ach was not ready for that. I think it was re­belling a lit­tle bit,” Thiem said, laugh­ing about what hap­pened. “But all good. I some­times have it when I have tough matches.”

The key to Thiem’s vic­tory over No. 7 Zverev was the same as the key to his pre­vi­ous win, over No. 1 Rafael Nadal in the quar­ter­fi­nals: com­ing through in the clutch. Thiem went a com­bined 5 for 5 in tiebreak­ers in those matches.

“I was go­ing for it. Could have also missed them,” he said about some of his shots Fri­day. “I was brave, but also lucky that I made th­ese.”

The No. 5-seeded Thiem’s op­po­nent in the ti­tle match Sun­day will be No. 2 No­vak Djokovic, the de­fend­ing cham­pion, who elim­i­nated Roger Fed­erer on Thurs­day.

The women’s fi­nal is Satur­day, with two-time ma­jor cham­pion Gar­biñe Mugu­ruza of Spain tak­ing on 14th-seeded Sofia Kenin of the United States. It is Mugu­ruza’s fourth Grand Slam fi­nal and the 21-year-old Kenin’s first.

Djokovic, 32, will be ap­pear­ing in his record eighth Aus­tralian Open fi­nal and 26th Grand Slam fi­nal over­all. While Thiem eyes his first ma­jor tro­phy, Djokovic is go­ing for No. 17, which would move him within three of Fed­erer’s record of 20. Rafael Nadal, with 19, is the only other man ahead of Djokovic.

Thiem’s two pre­vi­ous ma­jor fi­nals came on the red clay of the French Open, where he was the run­ner-up to 12-time cham­pion Nadal each of the last two years.

Now he will face a sim­i­lar chal­lenge: Djokovic owns a record seven ti­tles from the hard courts of the Aus­tralian Open.

Zverev’s take on Thiem’s form?

“He’s play­ing the best tennis of his life,” said Zverev, who was mak­ing his de­but in a Slam semi­fi­nal.

Thiem never had been past the fourth round in Mel­bourne un­til now. But he’s mor­ph­ing into a su­pe­rior hard-court player — and one in rather fine form at the mo­ment, with three con­sec­u­tive wins over top-10 op­po­nents, in­clud­ing No. 1 Nadal in the quar­ter­fi­nals and, now, Zverev.

“He flat­tens his shot out much more. Be­fore, he was a com­plete clay-court player. A lot of move­ment, a lot of run­ning around, stuff like that,” Zverev said. “Now he has a com­plete hard-court game.”

He also saved 9 of 14 break points in the semi­fi­nal.

“In the im­por­tant mo­ments, I didn’t play my best. He did,” Zverev said. “That’s where the match kind of went his way.”

As­so­ci­ated Press

AD­VANC­ING Aus­tria’s Dominic Thiem cel­e­brates af­ter de­feat­ing Alexan­der Zverev dur­ing their semi­fi­nal match at the Aus­tralian Open cham­pi­onship in Mel­bourne, Aus­tralia on Fri­day.

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