The battle as to which of the two young guns will have the right to challenge Novak Djokovic for the Australian Open title was settled in favour of Dominic Thiem who beat Alexander Zverev in another lung-buster for the Austrian
Being in the Australian Open final is unreal. What a start to the season for me Dominic Thiem
On a sweltering evening the tireless 26-year-old Thiem came through the second semi-final after three hours and 42-minutes, 3-6 6-4 7-6(3) 7-6(4) to become the first Austrian ever to reach the Melbourne final.
There of course, the defending champion Djokovic, awaits, the Serb having prevented last Thursday, the 38-year-old Roger Federer from realising his ambition of winning a seventh AO title which would have been the 21st of his stellar career.
Thiem survived a strong opening challenge from Zverev playing in his first grand slam semi-final but will find his new opponent who has yet to lose a Melbourne final and is on a 12-match unbeaten streak. Victory will also see him leapfrog Nadal into the top spot of the world rankings.
But Thiem has found a new confidence in himself and shown excellent commitment during the championships which has seen him get the better of Nadal over five sets.
“It was an unreal match, two tie-breakers, so tough and so close. It was almost impossible to break him,” said Thiem following his win.
“Being in the Australian Open final is unreal. What a start to the season for me.”
He now has the chance to break the strangle hold on the majors of the Big Three and make his debut on the grand slam champions roll of honour.
“I was playing four hours 10-minutes against Rafa (in the quarter-finals), who is the most intense guy on tour, almost always so intense and long,” Thiem continued
“So it was not easy to recover. But once all the adrenalin came, already when I walked into the full stadium was fine, actually, but still I had some troubles in the first set.”
He did show nerves in the opening moments and was broken in the first game,
saving two break points before sending a backhand wide only for Zverev to reciprocate by dropping his own in the very next game.
Play was interrupted when rain arrived and the roof had to be closed for a brief period and with Thiem struggling with his serve, the 22-year-old German grabbed the first set and the initiative as his own serve was in excellent working order.
But the seventh seed lost focus and two double faults in game three of the second set handed Thiem a 2-1 lead and as he tried to regain his position, he became erratic, allowing his opponent to level.
Bizarrely, play was halted for nine minutes one game into the third set when a light went out above the baseline which bothered Zverev.
As the pair awaited the repairs, a burst of ‘Sweet Caroline’ was heard which Thiem said lifted his spirits as it reminded him of his skiing holidays.
“I like this song,” he said. “I felt like I was in Austria on skiing holidays, because that’s where they play that song all the time.
“That loosened me up a bit.”
When they resumed, Thiem held serve and then broke with an epic backhand winner as Zverev again lost concentration and the momentum appeared to shift.
Thiem is one of the best returners in the game and was getting almost every ball back by now. He looked to be on his way, but Zverev refused to surrender and broke again to even it up.
It went to a tiebreak where Thiem turned on the style to take a stranglehold on the match.
There was little between them in the crucial fourth set as they traded blows. It went to serve and another tie-breaker when Thiem’s experience helped him over the line.