There’s one thing for sure when the U.S. Open men’s final concludes on Sunday—there will be a brand new Grand Slam champion.
On Friday Daniil Medvedev will face Dominic Thiem and Pablo Carreno Busta will take on Alexander Zverev at Arthur Ashe Stadium in the semifinals for a chance to lift a Grand Slam trophy for the first time.
Not since the 2003 Wimbledon has a previous Grand Slam winner failed to make the quarterfinals of a Slam tournament. And the Big Three of tennis, Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer, aren’t a factor in this Open.
World No. 1 Djokovic, the clear favorite at Flushing Meadows, was kicked out the tournament after striking a line judge in the throat with a ball hit in anger. Nadal opted out over COVID-19 pandemic concerns. Federer announced early in the summer he was taking the rest of the year off to rehab from knee surgery.
The two other Grand Slam winners in the draw—Andy Murray and Marin Cilic—went out early.
Now, with 17-time major winner Djokovic out of the tournament, the prospects for the contenders have become considerably rosier.
"I think the Novak news shocked us all, and obviously for us younger guys, we see that as a massive opportunity, but we have to put our head down and just do our job and focus on ourselves,” Zverev said.
Medvedev’s single appearance in a Grand Slam final was last year’s Open when he put up an epic tussle with Nadal before losing in five sets and nearly five hours. Thiem has lost to Nadal in the French Open final the last two years and to Djokovic at the Australian Open this year.
Zverev and Carreno Busta are looking for their first Slam championship match. Zverev lost in the semis of the Australian Open earlier this year. Carreno Busta lost in the semis of the Open in 2017.
Thiem leads Medvedev, 2-1, in head-to-head matches, though Medvedev seems on better form at the Open and has had the much easier trip to the semis. He hasn’t lost a set in five matches. It’s been 60 years since a man won the Open without dropping a set. That would be Neale Fraser in 1960 at what was known then as the U.S. Championships.
Medvedev has been serving up a storm. He has not been a break down in the tournament and not faced 0-40 on his serve in 68 games. He has won a tournament-best 65 of 68 service games (96%). In his quarterfinal win over Andrey Rublev he never faced a break point.
"I would say that he comes very close to the big three players in terms that he can play his level, his top level, for doesn't matter how long, I mean, four, five, six hours,” Thiem said. “That's going to be really, really difficult.
"But I'm looking forward to that one. I think it's going to be a big stage, even if it's without fans.”
As for Medvedev’s view of Thiem: “He’s very aggressive, tries to take everything with his forehand, goes for it, doesn't ask questions.”
Zverev had to grind out a win against Borna Coric in the quarters and was able to lift his game when the going got tough.
"I was down 6-1, 4-2 after about 28 minutes,” Zverev said. “It's not a secret I didn't play my best. But I found a way, found a way to win that second set, and I feel like that's the most important.”
Zverev has a 2-1 edge on Carreno Busta, who outlasted Denis Shapovalov in the quarters in five sets and four hours.
"It's very important to be back in the semifinals of the U.S. Open, no?” Carreno Busta said. “When I arrive to the quarterfinals in Roland Garros in 2017, was amazing. Then I made a semifinals here. It was unbelievable.”
One of these four will be a new Slam winner.
By the way, who was it that won his maiden Grand Slam title at that 2003 Wimbledon?
Some guy named Roger Federer, who went on to have a decent career.