The Younger Games: 'hungry' pretenders seek first Grand Slam


New York (AFP)

Dominic Thiem and Daniil Medvedev are among the semi-finalists looking to capitalize on the absence of the "Big Three" and win a breakout maiden Grand Slam title at the US Open.

The tournament, already missing defending champion Rafael Nadal and Swiss great Roger Federer through coronavirus fears and injury, was blown wide open when Novak Djokovic was disqualified for accidentally hitting a line judge with a ball in the last 16.

His shock departure means a first-time Grand Slam champion will be crowned at Flushing Meadows on Sunday for the first time since Croatian Marin Cilic won at the US National Tennis Center in 2014.

It also means there will be a Grand Slam champion other than Djokovic, Nadal or Federer for the first time since Switzerland's Stan Wawrinka won the third of his tennis majors at the US Open in 2016.

The circumstances present a golden opportunity for the next generation of stars -- second seed Thiem, third seed Medvedev and fifth seed Alexander Zverev -- to enter the pantheon of Slam champions.

"It's different," Zverev said, referring to the Big Three's absence, after reaching the last four.

"We're going to have a new Grand Slam champion. This is the one thing that we know for sure.

"We don't know who it is, but there's a lot of guys that want it. There is 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," he added.

Both Thiem, from Austria, and Medvedev, of Russia, have come close to winning Grand Slams before.

Thiem, who turned 27 last week, lost the Australian Open final in five sets to defending champion Djokovic earlier this year.

He also fell at the final hurdle of the French Open, to Nadal, in 2018 and 2019.

- 'Really difficult' -

The 24-year-old Medvedev, meanwhile, forced Nadal to five sets in last year's US Open final.

The Russian insists he has tried to put any thoughts about Djokovic's absence out of his mind.

"The problem is that Djokovic was not in my half (of the draw) even. So in order to meet him, I would need to be in the final," he told reporters.

"Right now I still have semis to play. Djokovic is the other side of draw, so that's how I think pragmatically, and that's how I take it."

Thiem versus Medvedev for a place in Sunday's final has all the hallmarks of being a classic.

Both are aggressive baseline players with powerful serves and groundstrokes. They also have strong defensive games and like to wear opponents down during lengthy rallies.

"I would say that he comes very close to the big three players in terms that he can play his level, his top level, for it doesn't matter how long. I mean, four, five, six hours," Thiem said of Medvedev.

"That's going to be really, really difficult."

Zverev, just 23 years old, takes on Spanish journeyman Pablo Carreno Busta in Friday's other semi-final.

Spain's 20th seed benefitted from Djokovic's moment of anger on Sunday, progressing to the quarter-finals by default.

The 29-year-old took advantage of the opportunity by downing Canadian rising star Denis Shapovalov in an epic five-setter to reach his second US Open semi-final.