For two sets, it appeared Alexander Zverev was going nowhere fast despite owning one of the most powerful serves in tennis. But Zverev decided to get more aggressive with his first serve, found his rhythm and rode it to a stunning 3-6, 2-6, 6-3, 6-4, 6-3 victory over Pablo Carreno Busta to reach his first Grand Slam final in the U.S. Open Friday evening at Arthur Ashe Stadium. The match lasted three hours and 23 minutes.
In the second semifinal, second-seeded Dominic Thiem of Austria overcame an ankle problem to get past third-seeded Daniil Medvedev of Russia, 6-2, 7-6 (7), 7-6 (5). Both finalists will be going for their first Grand Slam title Sunday afternoon.
“Mentally, I stayed in it,” Zverev said of the hill he climbed in the first semifinal. “Even though I was down two sets to love, I stayed in it. I think a lot of players would have gone away. Sometimes, you have to dig deep. Today, I dug deep, I dug very deep.”
The victory marked the first time Zverev had rallied to win after losing the first two sets. “I had to be more aggressive with my first serve,” Zverev said. “I wasn’t winning many second-serve points.”
In fact, Zverev won only 37% of his second-serve points for the entire match and won just seven of 30 second-serve points in the first two sets. Over the final three sets, Zverev focused on his first serve and won 39 of those 46 points. He also recorded 24 aces to four by Carreno Busta.
Carreno Busta was in charge early but couldn’t maintain momentum. “In this moment with two sets up is when you need to win the match, when you need to go for it to try to do it, to continue playing aggressive,” Carreno Busta said. “Maybe I didn’t do it.”
In the third set, Zverev broke Carreno Busta in the third game, lost his serve in the next game, but immediately broke back and served out a 6-3 third set win. Early in the fourth set, the two players exchanged breaks, but Zverev took control with a great forehand volley to break and go up 4-3 on his way to a 6-4 win. Carreno Busta called for a trainer and received treatment for his back before starting the fifth set.
“The first set and the second set, I could return a lot of serves,” Carreno Busta said. “Then he start to serve better. In the fifth set, he serves really good. But that’s normal that he makes a lot of points with his serve. It’s his best weapon.”
Before he knew it, Carreno Busta went down 15-40 on his serve in the first game of the final set and was broken immediately when he netted a forehand return. Suddenly, it was Carreno Busta who was in a downward spiral and Zverev who was coming on strong.
Zverev’s serve grew increasingly dominant, reaching a top-end speed of 136 miles per hour and even 130 on a second serve that gave him a 4-2 lead in the fifth set. Zverev won 15 of 18 first-serve-points before breaking Carreno Busta again in the final game to wrap up the amazing comeback victory.
The key to the second semifinal came in the second set when Thiem rebounded from a break down to even the set at 5-5 and then fought off five break points in the next game to hold serve. Medvedev had a set point while leading 5-3 in the third set but failed to hold his serve on the way to losing another tiebreaker.
“After the first set, it was great tennis from both of us,” Thiem said. “He served for both sets, and I played my best tennis.”