Alexander Zverev and Pablo Carreno Busta will walk onto the court inside Arthur Ashe Stadium Friday afternoon for one of the biggest matches of their lives. But only one of them will depart with a berth in his first Grand Slam final.
Zverev, the 2018 Nitto ATP Finals champion won his first two ATP Masters 1000 titles when he was 20, leading many to shine the spotlight on him. Now that he is into his second major semi-final, Zverev will try to bring his very best to break new ground.
“This is the reason why you started playing tennis. I needed to learn how to deal with that pressure. I needed to learn how to deal with those expectations of myself,” Zverev said. “It took me a little bit of time, but now I’m in the semi-finals of the US Open and I definitely don’t want to stop here.”
The 23-year-old, who made his first major semi-final in Melbourne earlier this year, will try to become the first German Grand Slam finalist since Rainer Schuettler at the 2003 Australian Open and the first man from his country to make the US Open final since Michael Stich in 1994.
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Nobody remaining in the draw has earned major glory, leaving the door open for one of the four remaining players (Zverev, Carreno Busta, Daniil Medvedev and Dominic Thiem) to seize the moment.
“We’re going to have a new Grand Slam champion. This is the one thing that we know for sure,” Zverev said. “We don’t know who it is, but there are a lot of guys that want it. There are a lot of guys that are hungry for it. I know that all the young guys are hungry for it, and it’s going to be interesting.”
While the fifth-seeded Zverev will be the favourite, there’s no discounting the always solid Carreno Busta, who outlasted Denis Shapovalov in a five-set quarter-final. The 20th seed will play his second semi-final at Flushing Meadows. Three years ago, he battled Kevin Anderson for four tough sets before falling short.
“It’s very important to be back in the semi-finals of the US Open. When I arrived to the quarterfinals in Roland Garros in 2017, [it] was amazing. Then I made a semi-finals here. It was unbelievable,” Carreno Busta said. “It is very important to me, to my confidence, to continue working very hard, to continue this way.”
This promises to be a baseline duel between two players who don’t have a glaring weakness from the back of the court. Carreno Busta doesn’t often move forward, but he’s comfortable at the net, shown by his Western & Southern Open doubles triumph alongside Alex de Minaur two weeks ago.
Zverev has more firepower than the Spaniard, especially with his serve. But in the quarter-finals against Borna Coric, the German stayed back and played a defensive match to get the win. If he does that again, it will allow Carreno Busta opportunities to go for his shots.
In their only previous ATP Head2Head meeting, Zverev defeated Carreno Busta 7-6(4), 6-2 in the semi-finals of the 2018 Miami Open presented by Itau. In that match, the German did well to take it to his older opponent.
“I tried to be more aggressive. I made some winners; made some backhand winners finally in the match and found my rhythm,” Zverev said. “I think after that, I started to play really well, not only in the tie-break but also the second set.”
Zverev has been more dominant behind his serve this fortnight, winning 90 per cent of his service games compared to 82 per cent for Carreno Busta. He has also earned an impressive 80 per cent of points behind his first serve.
But if the match remains close throughout, keep an eye on the fifth seed’s second serve. He has struggled at times with double faults under pressure, hitting 41 in five matches compared to nine for the Spaniard. With tension high with a spot in the US Open final on the line, that might come into play.
The stakes couldn’t be any bigger, with Zverev attempting to live up to widely held expectations and Carreno Busta bidding to become the second-lowest-ranked US Open finalist in FedEx ATP Rankings history (since 1973 – Anderson, 2017).
“It’s the toughest level in our sport,” Zverev said. “I feel you have to play at your best… to have a chance.”