Melbourne: Dominic Thiem won the new-generation battle with Alex Zverev 3-6 6-4 7-6(3) 7-6(4) to reach his first Australian Open final on Friday and set up the ultimate test against Melbourne Park maestro Novak Djokovic.
In an enthralling semi-final featuring a rain interruption, a lighting failure and a plenty of drama besides, the fifth seeded Austrian shrugged off a sluggish start and was braver on the big points under the roof at Rod Laver Arena.
He thrashed two blazing forehand winners to raise three match-points in the decisive tiebreak, then sealed it with a cross court volley to book his third Grand Slam final after losing the last two French Open deciders to Rafa Nadal.
“Both of us could have won this today,” Thiem, who dumped Nadal from the quarter-finals, said on court.
“Maybe (I have) a little bit of experience, little bit of something else. He’s just 22, maybe not long before he makes it to his first Grand Slam final.
“It was an unreal match, again two tiebreaks, so tough and so close. It was almost impossible to break him.” With the men’s Grand Slams dominated for years by the ‘Big Three’ of Djokovic, Nadal and Roger Federer, Thiem will bid to become the first man born in the 1990s to win a major title.
For two players seeking a maiden final in Melbourne, it was a nervous start with each dropping their opening service games before rain halted play briefly for the roof to close.
After the resumption, Thiem was the first to blink with a double fault opening the door for Zverev, who crashed through to break the Austrian in the seventh game.
Still rattled, Thiem conceded the set in a flurry of unforced errors.
Zverev had served woefully in his dreadful ATP Cup in the lead-up to Melbourne, but he needed only two second serves in the entire first set.
The demons returned briefly, however, as he opened the third game of the second set with consecutive double faults before dropping serve.
But that was just the cue for a madcap phase of service breaks and sparkling rallies — and also a few bone-headed shots — from both players.
Thiem finally held to 5-3, but the madness continued.
In an outrageous game of net-rushing, botched overhead smashes and thumping groundstrokes, Thiem fought off two break points before blasting an ace down the ‘T’ to take the set and level the match.
The pair had literally shot the lights out, and play was halted for a second time after Zverev held serve to 1-0 in the third set due to lamps failing on the roof.
Following a break of some seven minutes, Thiem landed a crushing blow, luring Zverev into an ill-fated trip to the net before ripping a backhand past him to take his serve again.
He began throwing Zverev around the court with his power but the German hung tough, claiming a spellbinding rally with a searing pass after Thiem had dived like a goalkeeper for a volley. Thiem dropped serve and Zverev lifted with some superb tennis.
His line call challenges were appalling, however, and he used up his quota by the ninth game, leading to a minor tantrum and a code violation for an audible obscenity.
Fired up, he prised two set points from Thiem but the Austrian nervelessly saved both before racing away in the tiebreak.
A sizzling forehand down the line brought three set points, and Thiem converted the first with a sumptuous one-handed backhand winner fired from an absurd angle.
There was no glorious dash to the finish line for Thiem, with the fourth set a grind but he was magnificent in the tiebreak as he courageously attacked the lines before claiming it with a decisive rush to the net.