Leading by two sets to one and with a chance to clinch his quarter-final clash at Roland Garros with Carlos Alcaraz in the fourth-set tie-break, Alexander Zverev decided to gamble.“It is one shot that I like to do,” said Zverev in his post-match press conference when asked about the backhand down-the-line return winner that sealed his 6-4, 6-4, 4-6, 7-6(7) victory on Tuesday. “I have done it a lot in my career.
“I had to win the match myself. I feel like you’re either going to miss it by a country mile or going to hit a winner. So, I hit a winner, which I’m quite pleased about.”
The final point was a microcosm of Zverev’s approach to the match. The third seed seemed intent on dictating play from the start on Court Philippe Chatrier, where aggressive serving and groundstrokes powered him to a two-set lead over the Spaniard. Zverev believes that mindset was crucial in securing his maiden win over a Top 10 opponent at a Grand Slam.
“I think Carlos is one of the best players in the world right now. It seems quite impossible to beat him. But I knew that I had to play my absolute best from the first point on.
“Letting him go ahead in the match, letting him get the confidence was going to be a very difficult thing for me to come back from. In the end I’m happy that I won in four sets and didn’t have to go to a fifth set.”
As he moves within two matches of a maiden Grand Slam crown in Paris, Zverev acknowledged his expectations have changed when it comes to big matches at the majors.
“At the end of the day, I’m not 20 or 21 years old anymore,” said Zverev. “I’m 25. I am at the stage where I want to win, I’m at the stage where I’m supposed to win, as well.
“We still have the best players in the world playing with Novak [Djokovic], Rafa [Nadal], and Roger [Federer] is coming back. Then you have the new generation, but I think our generation is very strong as well. We have [Stefanos] Tsitsipas, [Daniil] Medvedev who is a US Open champion. I won big events like the Olympics, as well.”
The sort of resilience he showed in withstanding a strong Alcaraz fightback will be key for Zverev if he wants to progress further at the clay-court Grand Slam, where he faces World No. 1 Novak Djokovic or 13-time champion Rafael Nadal in the semi-finals. No matter who his opponent is, the German hopes that Tuesday’s performance will stand him in good stead.
“There is a reason why they are the best in the world at Grand Slams,” said Zverev. “One [Nadal] has 21, the other one [Djokovic] has 20. They have been top of the game for the past 15, 20 years, and there is a big reason for that.
“Yes, I have not beaten them in majors, but I feel like I was very close. I feel like I have had very difficult and tough matches against them…But there is a big difference between having a tough match and beating them.
“Hopefully I can manage and take this win today and put it on the court on Friday.”