Neither 20th seed Carreno Busta or fifth seed Zverev were expected to go this deep in New York, having shown little form coming into New York, though a spot in Saturday’s final against either third seed Daniil Medvedev or second seed Dominic Thiem is available for one of them when they enter the Arthur Ashe Stadium at 16:00 local time on Friday.
Zverev the victor in previous meeting
It has been over two years since Carreno Busta and Zverev played for the first and only time on tour. That meeting was also a semifinal clash, with Zverev prevailing in straight sets at the Miami Open in March 2018.
The German is in his second Grand Slam semifinal of 2020, following his run in Australia, and is beginning to look like a consistent slam performer after previous struggles. The world number seven has not had an easy run in New York, dropping a set in four of his five matches, though his shown improved mental toughness to survive and reach the last four.
Carreno Busta reached the semifinal at this tournament three years ago and is also a former doubles finalist here; he is one of the few Spaniards who is more comfortable on hard courts than clay. The Spaniard infamously reached the last eight after fourth round opponent Novak Djokovic was defaulted, and pulled through a tough five-set quarterfinal against Denis Shapovalov to reach a second semifinal in New York.
Though he has reached the semifinal, there is a sense that Zverev has not always been at his best in New York. Though it bodes well that he is now able to win when not playing too well, he will need to improve against a dangerous hard courter such as Carreno Busta.
The German has looked passive at times at Flushing Meadows, particularly in an edgy quarterfinal encounter versus Borna Coric, and will need to take more risks in this match-up. An aggressive outlook and style is what has helped the 23-year old reach a career high of third in the rankings and win 11 ATP Tour titles, and he should look to approach this encounter with a plan to dictate as frequently as possible.
Perhaps as always, the key for Zverev will be his serve. The fifth seed’s serve can either be a major weapon or a major liability. He has generally been serving well this tournament with a high number of aces and plenty of cheap points picked up, though there were signs of pressure against Coric with more double faults creeping in at times. His opening few service games and how he serves in them could set the tone for the contest.
If the fifth seed is serving poorly, Carreno Busta must take advantage. The Spaniard should look to be aggressive with his returning and could consider stepping further into the court if he starts getting several second serves from his opponent. The 20th seed in general should look to be aggressive when at all possible, particularly as he may be facing Zverev’s powerful groundstrokes in a lot of rallies.
Carreno Busta is arguably the better mover of the two, though the German has improved in recent seasons. The world number 27 will look to use his athleticism to defend well and frustrate his opponent as well as maintain his aggressive game style. His defensive skills may be particularly important if his opponent is playing more aggressively than he has at times this tournament.
This is a tough semifinal to call. Zverev, 20 spots higher than Carreno Busta in the rankings, is certainly the favorite and has proven this season to be a much stronger player at slams. However, there is a sense that the German may be there for the taking if he plays like he did in the last eight, with someone with the Spaniard’s experience in a prime position to take advantage. It is also important to note that there is no difference in terms of experiencing this occasion, with this being just a second Grand Slam singles semifinal for both.
Though he may not have been entirely convincing at all times, Zverev has pulled through so far and has an apparent mental toughness that has not previously been there. That might help pull him through this contest, though don’t expect Carreno Busta to make it easy.
Prediction: Alexander Zverev in five sets