Zverev vs Thiem Live Free: Thiem leads Zverev 7-2 in their ATP Head2Head series and won their past three matches, including a four-set triumph in this year’s Australian Open semi-finals. Both players hit more winners than unforced errors that night in producing arguably the highest-quality match to date in their rivalry.
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.
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.
Thiem leads the tournament in return games won (32/82, 39%) and will look to apply pressure on Zverev’s serve, which has been prone to spurts of double faults. Although he shines in long baseline rallies, Thiem has also shown a greater willingness to finish points at net. That could serve him well as he hopes to avoid testing a minor right ankle injury that he sustained against Medvedev.
Zverev had struggled with internal and external pressure at Grand Slams, but broke free from that this year. After achieving his first Grand Slam semi-final in Melbourne, the 23-year-old is the youngest player to reach the US Open final since Djokovic in 2008. Should he prevail on Sunday, he’ll become the youngest major winner since a 20-year-old Juan Martin del Potro at this event in 2009.
The German showed impressive mental toughness in shaking off slow starts during his quarter-final and semi-final matches. He rallied from a set and a break down against Borna Coric in the quarter-finals, then fought back from two sets down against Pablo Carreno Busta to reach the final. His fitness is also evident in continuing to bounce back from long matches. Zverev’s average match time this fortnight has exceeded three hours.
Although his comebacks have been admirable, Zverev can’t afford to start slowly against Thiem. He’ll need to use his serve and forehand to keep the points short and avoid lengthy rallies with the tireless Austrian. The longer the match goes, the more it will likely swing in favor of Thiem, who produced a 15-3 record last year in deciding sets.
But perhaps the biggest factor will be who handles the occasion better. Thiem will have to erase the memories of his previous defeats in Grand Slam finals and Zverev will need to handle his nerves as he plays the biggest match of his career. The Austrian will also face his first major final without any fans. Although Thiem has adapted well to the unique atmosphere, he fed off vocal crowds throughout his three previous Grand Slams finals and will need to draw energy from elsewhere.
”It’s the biggest goal and also the biggest dream I’ve had in my tennis career for a few years now,” Thiem said. “Of course, it’s pressure for me. At the same time, I try to think not too much about it. If it’s not going to happen on Sunday, I have to continue working and maybe get the chance at another Slam. [But] the chance is now… I’ll try everything to make it.”