Zverev looked anything but likely to win on Friday in the early sets as he mistimed groundstrokes, struggled to win quick points with his heavy serve, double-faulted into the net and spread his long arms wide and looked imploringly at members of his team in the sparsely populated stands.
“I was actually looking at the scoreboard when I was down two sets to love,” Zverev said. “I was like, I can’t believe it. I’m playing in a semifinal where I’m supposed to be the favorite, and I am down two sets to love, and I have no chance, I’m playing that bad.
“So I knew I had to come up with better tennis and knew I had to be more stable.”
Easier thought than done, but Zverev is used to working his way out of trouble and though he had never come all the way back before from two sets down, he has proved himself in five-set matches: He is now 14-6 in them.
Zverev, nicknamed Sascha, finished with 24 aces and eight double faults, and won 78 percent of the points when he put his powerful first serve in play. The last German man to win the U.S. Open was Boris Becker in 1989, shortly before the fall of the Berlin Wall. But Zverev, born in Hamburg in 1997, will clearly need to play a much more complete match against Thiem than he did against Carreño Busta if he is to pose a serious threat in the final.
“I couldn’t be happier,” Zverev said of his big comeback. “But there’s still one step to go for me.”
Thiem knows that too well.
“From the moment Novak was out of the tournament, it was clear that there’s going to be a new Grand Slam champion,” Thiem said. “From that moment on, that was also out of my mind. I was just focusing on the remaining guys left in the draw.
“Now it’s Sascha remaining, the last one.”