Welcome to Tennis Elbow, the column that looks ahead to the latest in tennis. Today, Charles Blouin-Gascon previews day 14 of the 2020 US Open.
Today we close the chapter on a weird and wonky 2020 US Open.
But you know what they say, right? That the ending of one thing often means the start of something new? Well in ending, this US Open might also launch the new era of men’s tennis.
For the first time since 2014 when Marin Cilic beat Kei Nishikori in three sets of 6-3 in the final of this same tournament, the ATP will crown a new first-time Grand Slam winner when Dominic Thiem and Alexander Zverev battle it out today.
Here are two players stepping into the limelight and under the brightest lights of tennis with the guarantee that one of them will be feted and hailed as the great new champion and hope of the sport. They will get invited to New York talk shows and, from there, will enter every subsequent new event as the person to beat and, thus, will likely earn oodles of both tour points and prize money.
Yeah, okay. None of this beyond the US Open title itself would actually be guaranteed, just like there is no guarantee that this men’s final will coincide with the arrival of the new era of the sport. Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, for some reason, still are competing and playing well on most days. Novak Djokovic, when he isn’t hitting lines judges in the throat with a ball, is still the mostly immovable object at the centre of everything unfolding on the ATP.
But for the first time, men’s tennis will have a major winner born in the 1990s. It will be either someone who’s knocked at the door a few times already in the Austrian Thiem, or someone who’s been hailed as the future of the sport for about five years already in the German Zverev. It will be someone who grew up watching the three players who are still so vital to the sport.
Thiem on what he’s learned by watching, then playing Federer, Nadal and Djokovic. Very thoughtful answer…
‘Definitely they are also a part of the player I became now’ pic.twitter.com/UiHO6Yj2DC
— Ravi Ubha (@raviubha) September 12, 2020
Djokovic, Nadal and Federer will not, despite the appearances, play forever; at some point, the future has to become the present. This just might be the shot in the arm it needed to arrive.
MEN’S FINAL PREVIEW:
Arthur Ashe Stadium: Dominic Thiem  vs Alexander Zverev  (Not before 4pm)
It’s somehow fitting that in this wonkiest of seasons we see the young German Zverev finally take the next step to a career-best result. Will he fall flat on his face or step up to the podium? (Or do a little bit of both, which is what he did when he overcame Pablo Carreno Busta in the previous round?) Still, this match will pit Zverev against easily his toughest opponent at the US Open as he’s made the final behind a fairly easy draw.
Thiem, on the other hand, has done the exact opposite, having just squandered the man whom plenty (including us) foresaw as the eventual champion in Daniil Medvedev in the previous round. Other than maybe the quarterfinals, the Austrian hasn’t really had an easy draw—although he’s made navigating this draw look quite easy. That’s the difference. We’re giving Thiem the edge in four sets.
Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG