2020 U.S. Open Semi-finals

Nice to see Thiem squash the overmatched Aussie scrambler in Wednesday’s QF. De Minaur has heart, a decent lineage (his mentor Lleyton was a similar kind of two-handed wretchedness) and a future in this sport. He will make a weaker soul weep in loss like we’ve seen him do, already, many times. In the third round of this very tournament he came back from two sets to one down and embarrassed Khachanov 3 and 1.

Thiem’s tennis is a much more sophisticated and trusted language compared to that particular Russian. Khachanov has a flawed tennis tongue (see his FH motion) and doesn’t appear to have much of the necessary assassin’s creed in his tennis character.

Which seems to be a fairly common dialect on tour over the past twenty years.

You should read this post, the one I wrote after Dominic Thiem’s last U.S. Open QF appearance.

I argue that loss was tragic. Huge missed opportunity. Not a tough argument to make, obviously. But that article foreshadows what I’m going to say here. I looked for another post I wrote about Thiem’s tennis. If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you know how we’ve repeatedly proclaimed that we beliem in Thiem (This ingenuous crack was to don t-shirts along with HRFRT).

I argue somewhere that Thiem’s tennis is an advanced evolution of the sport: there is something in his brand of one-handed-backhand genius that reflects the style of today’s game. Sure, he still needs a little more time to track and deliver his baseline artillery; we’re still suspect of his often deep backcourt position; the OHBH still scares even the most zealous OHBH radical. But the consistent results on and off the court consolidate our belief.

That loss to Nadal in five in 2018 was brutal. I put that failure in historical perspective this way:

Rafa stormed the 2005 French Open when he was 18, beating Federer in the SF, among others (of course his win over Roger in Miami 2004 marks the beginning of his tennis destruction). Rafa is a great example of a younger “outsider” disrupting the power structure.

Novak in 2008 was 20, I believe, and he beat Federer in the Aussie SF on his way to a first major.

One can see that the two monsters that Federer created were precocious in their desires to overcome their dominant ancestor.

Pete Sampras of 1990 is another great example and one I might suggest informs my read on the Thiem v Nadal QF at 2018 U.S. Open. Pete’s U.S. Open run that year was perhaps a little like what Thiem’s could have been (sure this sort of comparison is flawed and unfair — but when you’re playing at this level, in this company, you better be ready for such lofty comparisons).

Pete was 19 years old, 12th seed, and he beat a 30 year-old 3-seed Lendl in the QF, Johnny Mac in the SF and Andre in the final. That Lendl QF almost looks like a perfect parallel for the Thiem v Nadal match last night.

I mention that a win over one of these legends while they’re playing quality major championship tennis would be more meaningful.

I put that thought into this mold: “Inevitability is more interesting when it descends from the clouds, rather than rises from the grave.”

In short, the Big 3 have crushed generations of tennis talent. Thiem, now 27, is not new to this, as we all know. And he’s, as you can see, not that young. Medvedev at 24 has, seemingly, a little more time to overcome the Big 3 pandemic.

A vaccine is simple enough. Rise-up and overcome a Djoker or Rafa in these moments. Thiem lost in the Melbourne final back in January to Novak, in five, where he was up 2 sets to 1. He’s lost twice to Rafa in French Open finals. He’s been ready though his hard court prowess, one could argue, has needed time to evolve.

And this label we slap around on athletes (“s/he’s destined,” “s/he’s due,” “it’s only a matter of time,” etc.), in men’s tennis, especially, has been blatantly whimsical, wishful, or plain wrong.

The Thiem vs. Medvedev SF is the virtual final of the 2020 U.S. Open. We have no Big 3 in the field at this point; none of these players had to beat one of those giants to get to this point. Not an ideal scenario for crowning a new champ, but let’s move on.

We have to like Dominic’s game at this point in the tournament. Other than the loss of concentration against Cilic in the third round, where he dropped that third set, he’s been pretty dominant in his matches. Took him a set to feel-out the potential power of FAA before dismissing this underclassman, 1 and 1. And what he was able to do to De Minaur in that QF is at least professional. That could have been a much longer, more taxing match even though there were some tense exchanges in all three sets that belie that QF’s competitive balance.

Thiem’s BH looks good and as long as he can find consistently that flat DTL winner, he’s going to be very tough to beat, though I’ll add that he needs a good FS %, as well, to be almost unbeatable.

Daniil Medvedev can make a case for his candidacy, too, to be a first time major champion, the first non-Big 3 player to win a major since Stan’s 2016 U.S. Open title.

Medvedev’s mental game, in my read, is one of his biggest advantages in today’s match. He’s confident. He’s beaten the big boys, as has Dominic. Thiem reached the last major’s final (2020 AO), but Medvedev’s summer of 2019 is tough to forget, at this point. He beat Kyrgios in the Citi Open final, lost to Nadal in the Rogers’ Cup final, beat Novak in the Cincy final, lost to Nadal in the U.S. Open final and then finished his 2019 highlight reel with titles in St. Petersburg and Shanghai (beating Zverev in that final), his second Masters 1000 of 2019.

This consistency against top tour talent might only be overshadowed by the style with which he won so many of these big matches. Whether it’s his unorthodox yet effective baseline arsenal from both wings, his sneaky defense, tracking down opponents’ winners with that 6’6″ frame, or his domineering serve that subdues even the strongest will to overcome this tennis savant, he is clearly a top five player on this planet.

Medvedev winning today would not surprise me in the slightest.

But I’m giving the edge to Domi, aside from my affection for his game.

Medvedev can limit Thiem’s time from the baseline, no doubt, but Medvedev chooses to hang back pretty deep, as well. I think a baseline oriented match will favor the Austrian. His slice has been as good as his offensive FH and BH strikes. He can rally, this one. So if Medvedev wants to sit back and exchange with Thiem, I think this will favor the latter.

Medvedev’s advantage will be more in his serve — if he’s serving and holding well, tough for any of his opponents. Secondly, he doesn’t usually make many mistakes. He’s simply going to stay back, throw different speeds and spins across the net and wait for his opponent to lose patience and over-cook something.

Medvedev can hit winners too, obviously. He’s patient and lethal.

This could go either way. Both have been knocking on the proverbial door for a bit now, especially the Austrian. 2020 likely gives us a Carreno Busta U.S. Open title. Seriously.

A welcomed respite from the carnage sees Thiem through today. His more complete game along with any semblance of celestial logic escape the Russian’s wrath.

Zverev should serve PCB off the court, but we know the German’s difficulties. You and I could certainly entertain another Spanish U.S. Open finalist. Hopefully Thiem is licking his chops for whatever comes his way.

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