It was the weekend of comebacks at the U.S. Open — a fitting tone for a city that has made one helluva COVID comeback.
The Twilight Zone version of the fan-less Open concluded Sunday in a fifth-set tiebreaker in four hours.
Austrian Dominic Thiem rallied from two sets down to post a five-set 2-6, 4-6, 6-4, 6-3, 7-6 (7-5) victory over German Alexander Zverev at the fan-less Arthur Ashe Stadium.
It’s been known for a week there would be a first-time Grand Slam champion after Novak Djokovic’s disqualification. That turned out to be the second seed who came in with a 7-2 record against the big-serving German.
It ended with Zverev hitting a backhand long as the cramping Austrian then fell on his back.
The fifth-set tiebreak matches the five-set win by Thiem over Zverev in the Australian Open semifinals. Thiem also rallied from 2-0 in the fifth-set tiebreaker as he appeared to start cramping up too.
For two sets, Thiem pounded his famous forehand deep and he looked oddly detached in his fourth Grand Slam final before buckling in. Zverev started to show nerves late in the second set, blowing a 5-1 lead, but he held on to take a two-sets-to-none lead.
The momentum had shifted by then as Thiem reverted to his rock-solid baseline form to become the first Austrian to win a Grand Slam since Tomas Muster won the 1995 French Open.
The comeback capped a successfully healthy if controversial Open. While the world’s best player was disqualified, it was not because of COVID-19 but for accidentally flicking a tennis ball that struck a female line judge in the neck.
No players tested positive for the coronavirus once the first ball was struck two weeks ago. The Flushing tennis center has come a long way since its turn as a harbor for COVID-19 patients in April — as did New York City, once the world’s hot spot.
“At the end we reflect back and say it’s safe, it’s been good for tennis, and it’s been financially good for the players and the tennis ecosystem,’’ USTA CEO Michael Dowse said.
In a fifth set that was classic, Thiem was up a break but double-faulted to let Zverev get the marathon back on serve.
With Zverev up 4-3 in the fifth, he posted a break point which he captured by making a wearier Thiem run for a backhand that he unleashed wide. Zverev attempted to serve out the match but got broken instead. It went to 5-5 in the fifth set — exceeding all expectations. The tennis kept getting better and better.
Thiem then broke Zverev for a 6-5 lead, outlasting him with a long rally that saw an exhausted Zverev pound the ball well long on break point.