It was. Eight games later, Zverev would double fault at deuce and send a soft forehand into the middle of the net to allow Thiem to serve for the fourth set.
Quickly, it was all tied up, and Thiem outlasted Zverev in the tense final games.
On paper, the match was Thiem’s to lose. Thiem had dispatched Daniil Medvedev, the top opponent remaining after Djokovic was disqualified, in three sets in the semifinals. He had dropped just one set in six matches. His blistering backhand became the shot no one could answer, the one that left the best players in the world shaking their heads, the spirits crushed as yet another winner whizzed down a sideline.
Zverev, on the other hand, had looked eminently beatable, especially during his error-filled semifinal, when he was down two sets and hitting 75 mile-an-hour second serves into the net. He somehow escaped — and laughed when he did, not quite believing he could have played so poorly and still landed in a Grand Slam final.
But it was a different Thiem who arrived for the final Sunday, and a different Zverev. At least early on.
The question now is where Thiem goes from here, especially at this moment when the Big Three — Federer, Nadal, and Djokovic — are all in their 30s and have likely won most of their major titles.
Tennis throws up the occasional surprising champion, especially in these moments of transition, when one set of all-time greats are in their twilight and the next set has yet to rise, players who get that one Grand Slam title and then don’t lift another trophy like it again.
There was Thomas Johanson of Sweden, who won in Australia in 2002, as Andre Agassi began to fade and Federer had yet to rise. The sport throws up the occasional weird champion. Gastón Gaudio of Argentina grabbed the French Open title just before Nadal became the king of clay. Goran Ivanisevic won Wimbledon in 2002, just before Federer took over Centre Court for five straight years, and Andy Roddick won the 2003 U.S. Open before Federer won five consecutive titles in New York.