There will be two images which stand the test of time from this US Open like no other.

The first is that of Naomi Osaka, now a two-time US Open champion, lying on her back moments after beating Victoria Azarenka in three sets, taking in her remarkable achievement while staring up and beyond a virtually empty Arthur Ashe stadium.

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The second occurred the weekend prior, as one swing of Novak Djokovic’s racket this time proved to be the Serbian’s downfall, with the wide-eyed world number one realising his tournament was over – despite the protests which followed – the moment the ball struck the line judge’s throat.

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Image credit: Getty Images

“It’s amazing how one centimetre can change not only the match, but the future of our sport, the history of our sport," said Eurosport expert Alex Corretja.

And so it proved, for Djokovic’s disqualification paved the way for a new men’s Grand Slam champion, six years on from Marin Cilic’s maiden – and to date only – major triumph.

The pressure was firmly on second seed Dominic Thiem and fifth seed Alexander Zverev to make the most of this opportunity, having both come up short in their Grand Slam bids to date. Thiem lost two French Open finals to Rafael Nadal in 2018 and 2019 before falling to Djokovic at this year’s Australian Open. Zverev meanwhile was chasing a first major final, with his only semi-final prior to this tournament in Melbourne back in January where he lost to Thiem.

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The pair duly came through sterns tests to set up Sunday’s showdown, and in a fraught affair where both players failed to serve out for the match it was Thiem who rallied from two sets down to win after taking the fifth-set tie-break 8-6.

It was a monkey off the back for Thiem, who joked he would have to call Andy Murray – loser of four Grand Slam finals before winning his first – should he suffer defeat again.

For Zverev it will be a painful experience but one he will look to learn from. At 23 the German reached this point later than most predicted, but he has finally laid down the foundations following doubts he had the temperament to reach a major final.

In Thiem and Zverev's attempts to make this the first of many final meetings, both will be very aware of the barriers back in place at the upcoming French Open, scheduled to start next Monday.

After sitting out of the US, Nadal is ready to defend his title at Roland Garros, with the imperious King of Clay the overwhelming favourite to clinch a 13th French Open. Add to that Djokovic, who will be steadfast in his attempts to win a second French Open after his premature departure last week.

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Both Djokovic and Nadal will be at this week’s Italian Open in a build-up tournament that Zverev and Thiem will not be playing given their Sunday night exploits stateside.

The odds are therefore stacked against Thiem repeating his New York success in Paris in some three weeks’ time, while come the Australian Open next year there will also be a 39-year-old Roger Federer - fitness permitting - back in the fold and dreaming big once more.

It means inevitably, barring injuries, come 2021 it will be the usual suspects who are favourites to win the men’s singles once more.

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Djokovic, Federer and Nadal brushed off the competition after Cilic’s unlikely 2014 win at the US Open, and while age means they are unlikely to make it another six-year wait for another player following Thiem’s victory, it will be down to the younger generation to prove this recent outcome was not an anomaly inspired by the bizarre circumstances of Djokovic’s exit.

Thiem and Zverev must lead this fight to make sure Sunday's final becomes a repeat occurrence. Not in the distant future when all of Djokovic, Nadal and Federer have retired, but in the immediate when that esteemed trio are reinstalled as favourites for the upcoming slams.

It is a tough ask, verging on the impossible at the French, but it is a mission they must take on to prove there is, at last, a new era on the way.

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