With due respect to Alexander Zverev and Pablo Carreno Busta, the Dominic Thiem versus Daniil Medvedev last-four battle is perhaps the final before the final of the 2020 US Open. They are the second and third seeds, respectively; they have a contrasting style of play that can make for an attractive and tactical semi-final; and they deserve to lay their hands on a maiden Grand Slam title in the absence of the ‘Big Three’.
With Novak Djokovic defaulted out of the tournament in the fourth round, Rafael Nadal pulling out due to the pandemic and Roger Federer due to a knee surgery, this US Open will present a new champion for the first time in six years. Both Thiem and Medvedev have done all the leg work over the last few years before seeing all their opportunities masterfully snatched away by the “Big Three”.
Ask Thiem. The Austrian has made it to three Grand Slam finals in the last three years, only to see Nadal (2018 and 2019 French Open) and Djokovic (2020 Australian Open) deny him his first major. The 27-year-old is one of the few current players to have beaten each of the ‘Big Three’ more than once, yet never in a Slam final.
Ask Medvedev. The Russian practically owned the hardcourt swing of the 2019 season, winning or reaching the final of six consecutive tournaments post the Wimbledon only to see Nadal edge past him in the one match that mattered the most—the US Open final. The world No 5 has not had a similar run in this suspension-hit season, but at the US Open, he is the only player in the men’s singles draw to have not dropped a set through the five matches so far. The 24-year-old’s quarter-final clash against compatriot and childhood friend Andrey Rublev on Tuesday night was his toughest test yet, one in which he spectacularly turned around a 5-1 deficit in the first set tiebreaker to keep his record intact with a 7-6(6), 6-3, 7-6(5) win. Not that Thiem has been stretched a lot, having lost a solitary set to Marin Cilic in the third round and looking equally efficient in his 6-1, 6-2, 6-4 quarter-final victory over young Australian Alex de Minaur.
What also makes this match-up more interesting is the unorthodox game of Medvedev that is bound to challenge the machine-like play of Thiem. While the latter loves to build his rallies from way behind the baseline with a touch of topspin and power, the former sends across low, flat strokes in a game style that can frustrate his rivals.
Fifth-seed Zverev out to prove a point
In the other men’s singles semi-final, world No 7 Zverev, long dubbed as one of the pioneers of the GenNext club, will be desperate to do justice to that tag against the 27th-ranked Pablo Carreno Busta, the Spaniard who breezed into the quarters after Djokovic was disqualified for hitting a lineswoman with a ball in the fourth round.
The 23-year-old Zverev has been touted to fill the big shoes of the ‘Big Three’, but he has often dug a hole for himself in Grand Slam outings. In 17 major appearances since 2016, the German has managed only a single semi-final (at the Australian Open this year) and a couple of quarter-final finishes. The fifth seed finally has a shot at his maiden Slam final against a player who no doubt has experience under his belt but doesn’t quite match the level of the big guys that Zverev struggles to get past.
Indeed, a Grand Slam semi-final without Djokovic, Nadal or Federer feels weird, but as Thiem said, it matters little to the four guys chasing history.
“There is no Roger, Rafa, Novak, but there is Daniil, Sascha and Pablo now,” Thiem said. “Every single one of us deserves this first major title. Everybody will give it all. Once we step on the court, those other three are forgotten anyway.”