US Open finals: Amazing comebacks or unbearable collapses? – Match Points #14

Marion Bartoli, Simon Cambers, and Ben Rothenberg join host Josh Cohen to discuss whether US Open titles for Dominic Thiem and Naomi Osaka were results of amazing comebacks or collapses by their opponents.

September 15, 2020
The figures

With the 2020 US Open in the books, our match points panel is back to break down some of the finer points from this weekend’s title matches in New York. 

Thiem vs. Zverev, US Open final: Was it Comeback or Collapse?

Most people agree that the 2020 US Open men’s singles final was entertaining, but opinions differ on the quality of the match. Was it a complete collapse by Alexander Zverev that led to Dominic Thiem’s first major title, or did the Austrian take it from his friend by playing great tennis? 

“It was just a pure mental battle by the end,” says Rothenberg, who believes it was more collapse than comeback. “It showed just how hard it is to win a Grand Slam. Sometimes people take that for granted, but in this match it was very clear how agonizing it was for these two guys to try to deal with the pressure.” 

Marion Bartoli believes the final was a great battle and that Dominic Thiem showed his mental toughness by engineering a comeback from two sets to love down. 

“Of course the level was not probably the top we’ve ever seen in a Grand Slam final, but for me the mental effort both of them put in during that match was quite extraordinary,” she said. “I have been in that situation myself, when you try your hardest mentally and you know your game is not at your best. That effort is even tougher – it’s actually easier when you play well.”

Dominic Thiem and Alexander Zverev, Australien Open, 2020

No doubt about it, Thiem showed great perseverance, but Zverev’s shaky second serves made for some pretty bad optics. 

“Obviously Thiem would not have been able to come back in that match, playing the way he was, had Zverev not crumbled beneath the pressure at the end,” Cambers said. “Watching him serve – what was it 68 MPH that one he threw in? He could have thrown it faster than that, probably.”

Osaka’s strength and courage took her to the title in New York

Victoria Azarenka couldn’t keep up her fantastic tennis in the women’s final, but the fact that she squandered a 6-1, 2-0 lead has more to do with Naomi Osaka’s big-match prowess.

“Naomi Osaka has the strength and the courage to keep hitting her shots and to keep believing in her game, and honestly to be 3-0 in finals of Grand Slams, she never lost one Grand Slam final, that just shows straightaway the player and the mental side she has,” Bartoli said. “That’s an incredible stat to have for somebody so young.” 

Osaka can problem solve with the best of them, says Simon Cambers. 

“You can see Osaka has developed that ability – or maybe she’s always had it, actually – to change things around in matches,” he said. “She doesn’t panic.” 

Rothenberg adds that with Osaka, the belief is strong, no matter what situation she is facing. 

“Osaka’s belief is incredible, and her ability to back herself even when down 6-1, 2-0 and to keep going down and hitting the ball and not shying away from that and not compromising,” Rothenberg said. “She never doubted herself.” 

Naomi Osaka fighting, 2020 US Open final

Naomi’s Biggest Victory? 

What was more impressive, Osaka’s title or the leadership that the 22-year-old displayed by taking a stand in the name of social justice? The panel believes that the two are intertwined: it’s hard to imagine one without the other. 

Cambers says that Osaka’s maturation has allowed her to become an even more compelling character in the public eye. 

“Now she’s able to speak more and she’s able to communicate better, she is really thoughtful, interesting person and I think it has translated on court, it’s made her much more confident in herself and her ability. Her faith in herself and the willingness to back herself under pressure – the two things come together.” 

Bartoli believes that the desire to be an agent of change fueled Osaka’s tennis even further, but she adds that Osaka wanted to do it for the right reasons. 

“It matters so much to her, she wanted to show that she was there in the front lines, no matter what her tennis results are,” she said. 

Whichever lens you view the Japanese star through, she comes up aces. Osaka just has a knack for delivering her best tennis at the business ends of Grand Slams. The stats don’t lie – Osaka is the first woman to win her first three major finals since Jennifer Capriati in 2002. 

“She was able to turn that pressure into motivation and power and channel it in this incredibly productive way,” said Rothenberg. “She has this incredible way to bring her best and this incredible will power which we’ve seen from her in so many different cases, from what she did surviving that really chaotic 2018 US Open final with Serena, to these moments this week. She’s absolutely unbelievable under pressure and channels it in this way that’s really unique and inspiring.”

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