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By Richard Pagliaro | Friday, September 11, 2020

Alexander Zverev

Alexander Zverev rallied from two sets down subduing Pablo Carreno Busta in the first fight-back of his career from two sets down to surge into his first US Open final.

Photo credit: @USOpen

The writing was on the wall as clearly as the scoreboard blaring the bleak deficit Alexander Zverev faced.

Humbled for two sets, surrendering six straight games and stung by a body blow, a stubborn Zverev shook it all off storming back to charge into his first Grand Slam final.

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Zverev rallied from two sets down subduing Pablo Carreno Busta 3-6, 2-6, 6-3, 6-4, 6-3 in the first fight-back of his career from two sets down to surge into his first US Open final.

Flat-footed, passive and sloppy for two sets, Zverev began clubbing his second serve with menacing intent, took some pace off his forehand to land that shot with greater frequency and kept fighting to reach a major milestone. 

The 23-year-old Hamburg native is the first German man to reach the Flushing Meadows final since Michael Stich in 1994 and the first man to rally from two sets down in a US Open semifinal since Novak Djokovic broke Roger Federer’s heart with a pulsating five-set rally in 2011.

“I was actually looking at the scoreboard when I was down two sets to love and I was like I can’t believe it,” Zverev told ESPN’s Brad Gilbert afterward. “I’m playing in a semifinal where I’m supposed to be the favorite and I’m down two sets to love where I have no chance—I’m playing so bad.

“I knew I had to come up with better tennis. I knew I had to be more stable. The conditions today were completely different because I played during the day every single time. Today, the ball wasn’t as fast or my serve wasn’t as effective. I’m through to my first Grand Slam final and that’s all that matters.”

Facing that two-set deficit, Zverev tore through seven of his final 14 service games with love holds and blasted 14 of his 24 aces over the final two sets. Frequently firing second serves in excess of 130 mph, Zverev permitted just seven points on his first serve over the final three sets.

“I wasn’t winning many second-serve points so I had to change something,” Zverev said. “I had to be more aggressive generally, I think, and it turned out well for me.”

It was a dispiriting defeat for Carreno Busta. Contesting his second US Open semifinal in the last four years, the Spaniard was solid exploiting a sloppy opponent in amassing a two-set lead, but Carreno Busta surrendered serve near the start of the final three sets, lost some depth on his drives and could not make inroads on the Zverev serve.

"[It] is true that he plays better in the third set," Carreno Busta said. "He start to serve better, to don't make the mistakes. 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. Maybe I didn't do it. Was the problem for me."

Truth be told this was some unsightly and tense tennis at times as Zverev came out so tight you wondered if he warmed up in a strait jack. But even winning ugly is a thing of beauty when it propelled Zverev into his first Grand Slam in his 20th major.

Importantly, Zverev staged the fiercest fight back of his career without either of his coaches—original coach and father Alexander Zverev, Sr. and new coach David Ferrer are not in New York.

This time, Zverev, who looked a little shaken after absorbing a body blow at net, dug down deep and figured it out on his own scoring his 11th win in his last 12 Grand Slam matches.

In the early stages, Carreno Busta blitzed him with a series of crosscourt forehands and reaped the rewards of the German’s shaky wing. Carreno Busta won 11 of the first 14 games in about an hour as Zverev sometimes struggled putting successive shots in the court.

The 2017 US Open semifinalist asserted his aggressive court positioning stepping inside the baseline to force the error and earn the security break for 5-1.

Carreno Busta dodged break points serving out the 40-minute opening set on his second opportunity.

Meanwhile a skittish Zverev was decelerating on his second serve and flagging his forehand.

The 6’6” German was collapsing on second serve dragging it down into the court. Zverev coughed up successive double faults to face two more break points in the third game of the second set.

Testing the Zverev repeatedly, Carreno Busta drew another netted forehand barking out a brisk “Vamos!” after scoring his fourth break for a 3-0 second-set lead.

By the time Carreno Busta stretched his lead to 4-0 he had not committed an error in the set while Zverev scattered 12.

Flat-footed at times and pushed behind the baseline, Zverev looked out of sorts during an 11-minute game that saw him saved four break points only to inexplicably fail to play a Carreno Busta drive that dropped in facing a fifth break point. Scattering his 32nd unforced errors, Zverev bent over at the waist and stared straight at the ground falling into a love-5 deficit.

The world No. 7 stalled his six-game slide breaking to finally stop the second-set shutout.

It was a brief reprieve. Carreno Busta served out the set on his second set point snatching a two-set lead just 85 minutes into the match.

The problem for Zverev was he couldn’t count on his spasmodic forehand in sustained rallies—and he was playing an unerring opponent he was giving nothing away for free.

The Australian Open semifinalist put together his two best forehands of the match breaking for 3-1, but Carreno Busta broke right back when Zverev ballooned a forehand deep in the fifth game. Zverev earned the third straight break for 4-2.

Showing much greater stability on his forehand, Zverev streaked through five love holds in six service games taking the third set and going up a break in the fourth set.

The fifth continued to be his own worst enemy at times. Zverev completely shanked a double fault out of nowhere donating a love break.

Though consistency eluded him, Zverev’s attacking instincts returned as he streaked forward behind a forehand approach and slammed a smash breaking again for 4-3.

Serving to extend the set, Carreno Busta drilled Zverev rattling the rib cage with a passing shot. The Spaniard apologized on the court and during the changeover.

Shrugging the body blow off, Zverev zapped a 132 mph blast down the middle—his 19th ace of the day—to force a fifth set. Zverev served 70 percent and won 14 of 16 first-serve points in the fourth set.

Prior to the fifth set, Carreno Busta took treatment for a back strain, but could slow his wobble against in increasingly sharper opponent.

An energized Zverev was fully engaged breaking with a bang to open the final set.

Hitting his forehand down the line to force the Spaniard into some backhand exchanges, Zverev never looked back closing a committed comeback in three hours, 23 minutes.

Transforming stress to a wide smile of satisfaction, Zverev improved to 14-6 in five-setters. Zverev will need a cleaner and faster start when he faces either second-seeded Dominic Thiem or 2019 finalist Daniil Medvedev in Sunday afternoon's final.

As he likely knows, only one man in tournament history has ever rallied from two sets down in the final to take the title.


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