Young guns eager to show there’s life beyond big three
Dominic Thiem and Alexander Zverev are optimistic grand slam tennis' long-awaited revolution is finally underway, but neither is convinced the era of the Big Three is over. Yet.
Desperate to avoid becoming victims of a false dawn, Thiem and Zverev will square off on Friday night for the right to face Novak Djokovic in Sunday's final.
Having eliminated world No.1 Rafael Nadal (19 majors) in the quarter-finals, Austria's Thiem will face similarly decorated opposition in the championship match - Djokovic (16) - if he wins.
The same scenario confronts Germany's Zverev, who ousted Swiss Stan Wawrinka, winner of three majors, in the quarters.
Thiem, who has lost two French Open finals to Nadal, insists it's too early to talk of NextGen players leading a charging of the guard.
"To really break a barrier, one young player has to win a slam," he said.
"Yeah, one of us going to be in the finals.
"But it's still a very long way to go. I mean, other semi-finals is still two of the big three.
"I think we are still a pretty long way from overtaking or from breaking this kind of barrier."
"Maybe," he said.
"I did beat Stan just now, who is also a multiple grand slam champion, which gives me a little bit of confidence that I can do it.
"Yeah, I mean, I've done well at other tournaments. I've won Masters Series, World Tour Finals.
"But the grand slams were always the week where I kind of even wanted it too much. I was doing things in a way too professional.
"I was not talking to anybody. I wasn't going out with friends. I wasn't having dinner.
"I was just really almost too, too focused.
"Changed that a little bit this week. I'm doing much more things outside the court.
"Maybe this is a stepping stone. Maybe this is how it should happen. We'll see how it goes now in two days' time."
At 26, Thiem has more experience and, based on a 6-2 history against 22-year-old Zverev, the edge.
"For me, it's funny because it's first time in a grand slam semi-finals I face a younger guy," Thiem said.
"We're good friends. I'm happy for him, as well, that he's playing so good here. He made his breakthrough at a grand slam.
"We have no secrets from each other.
"I mean, we played so many times, also on very special occasions already, at the ATP Finals, semis, French Open quarters.
"It's a nice rivalry we have. It's great that we add an Australian Open semi-finals to this one.
"Going to be a close match again. Same if two top-10 players play each other semis of a slam. The deciding moments are very small, small margins. "
Whatever Zverev achieves from here is a bonus.
"This year I actually came into the Australian Open with absolutely no expectations because I was playing horrible," he said.
"As I said to all of you guys, it's going to be a process beginning of the week with the first few matches. I hope I could just get through them and start playing them better as the tournament gets along. "This is what happened.
"I hope I can still continue to play better in the semi-finals and hopefully maybe in the final. The people that I'm going to play are not getting worse."