Alexander Zverev has extended Pablo Carreno Busta to a fourth set in their US Open semi-final, with the Spaniard now leading 6-3, 6-2, 3-6.
The fifth-seeded Zverev has never rallied from two sets down, but he will have to do so to reach his first Grand Slam final. Carreno Busta is also trying to make his maiden major championship match.
Zverev made 36 unforced errors in the first two sets compared to just 12 for Carreno Busta, allowing the 20th seed to build a sizable lead. If the German pulls off a stunning comeback, he will become the first US Open finalist from his country since Michael Stich in 1994.
Carreno Busta didn’t significantly drop his level in the third set, but Zverev began striking his forehand much cleaner, giving him more traction in rallies. Three consecutive breaks gave the German the edge, helping him extend the match. He only made three unforced errors in the third set.
The Spaniard has shown few nerves in the biggest match of his career, playing steady tennis and taking any opportunity to aggressively target the German’s forehand. Even after taking the early lead, he accelerated harder, going after second-serve returns and keeping the pressure on Zverev, who found little rhythm through two sets.
Carreno Busta faced a break point in his second service game, but raised his level after that. He broke twice in the opening set, hitting two crisp backhand passing shots in the early going to boost his confidence.
Zverev’s two-handed backhand is his most trustworthy shot, but even that was misfiring in the second set. Zverev made 12 unforced errors within the first four games to dig himself a hole. The German avoided a total washout heading into the third set, breaking at 0-5 and holding to get some momentum going, but Carreno Busta erased a 0/30 deficit in the next game to earn a two-set lead.
Zverev trailed early in his quarter-final against Borna Coric on Tuesday, losing the first set 1-6. But in the middle of the second set, he began to play more aggressively and found his range from the baseline. That took until the third set against Carreno Busta.
World No. 27 Carreno Busta can become the second-lowest-ranked tournament finalist since the FedEx ATP Rankings were established in 1973. The man who beat Carreno Busta in the 2017 US Open semi-finals, then-World No. 32 Kevin Anderson, holds that distinction.
Zverev made his first Grand Slam semi-final earlier this year at the Australian Open.
Nobody remaining in the draw has won a Grand Slam title, guaranteeing a first-time major champion for the first time since the 2014 US Open (Marin Cilic).