(AFP) - Dominic Thiem produced a historic comeback to beat Alexander Zverev in a nervy five-setter and win the US Open on Sunday for his first Grand Slam title.
The second seeded Austrian beat the fifth seed 2-6, 4-6, 6-4, 6-3, 7-6 (8/6) in 4hr 2min inside a near-empty Arthur Ashe Stadium.
It marked the first time in the US Open's Open era history that a player had recovered from losing the opening two sets to win the title.
It was also the first time the final had been settled by a tie-break.
"I wish we could have two winners today. I think we both deserved it," said Thiem.
The title is the 27-year-old Thiem's maiden Grand Slam trophy after three previous defeats in finals of tennis majors.
Thiem was runner-up at the Australian Open earlier this year and also lost in the last-two showdowns at the French Open in 2018 and 2019.
He also becomes the first new Grand Slam champion since Croatian Marin Cilic won at Flushing Meadows in 2014.
Thiem is also the first Grand Slam champion other than Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal or Roger Federer since Switzerland's Stan Wawrinka won the third of his majors at the 2016 US Open.
"I achieved a life goal, a dream of myself, which I had for many, many years," said Thiem.
Zverev, 23, smashed four aces and 16 winners in the first set as he displayed an impressive serve and volley game to take a 1-0 lead in just 30 minutes.
The German was helped by some sloppy serving from Thiem, who hit three double faults as he was broken twice, in games three and seven.
In set two, Zverev wasted three set points while 5-1 up but held on to take a 2-0 lead on his fifth set point.
The tide was beginning to turn though as Zverev's play became increasingly cagey as his suspect second serve got slower and his forehand, another weakness, became more defensive.
- 'Tough battle' -
After Thiem took set four, Zverev found himself serving for the championship at 5-3 in the fifth set.
But he could not hold and soon Thiem found himself 6-5 ahead. He took a medical timeout before it was his turn to serve for the championship.
However, like Zverev moments earlier, Thiem failed to clinch the match and it went to a tie-break.
He found himself 5-3 up after two double faults by Zverev but Thiem, by now exhausted and limping, blew two championship points.
He won the title and the winner's cheque of $3 million on his third after Zverev hit a backhand wide.
Thiem collapsed to the ground with his head in his hands before the pair, who are close friends, embraced on the court.
"It was a tough battle," said Zverev, who burst into tears during his runner-up speech.
"I wish you would have missed a little bit more so I could have hold that trophy up," he added.
Zverev said losing in a tie-break after being two sets and a break up "is not easy," but said his time would come.
"I don't think it's my last chance. I do believe that I will be a Grand Slam champion at some point," he told reporters.
The match was watched by just a few dozen people, mostly officials, journalists and event staff after the coronavirus pandemic forced the tournament to be held behind closed doors.
It was a scrappy, timid affair, with both players desperate to win their first Slams.
Zverev smashed 15 aces compared to Thiem's two. But the German also hit 15 double faults, with Thiem hitting eight.
Zverev hit more winners 52 to 43, but also more unforced errors, with 65 to 55.
This year's field at the Billie Jean King US National Tennis Center in New York was depleted by the absence of Swiss legend Federer and defending champion Nadal.
The tournament was also blown wide open by the disqualification of world number one and heavy favourite Djokovic in the last 16 for hitting a line judge with the ball.