Zverev wills himself into second straight major semifinal appearance

Zverev wills himself into second straight major semifinal appearance

Despite a shaky first set, Zverev was able to find a way to win against Borna Coric, a player he has struggled against in the past.

Over the past four years, Sascha Zverev has put on more than his share of stellar displays on all of the surfaces. He won a pair of Masters 1000 titles in 2017 on the clay courts of Rome and the hard courts in Canada. He was victorious in Madrid at another Masters 1000 event in 2018, and then capped his second year in a row at No. 4 in the world by upending both Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic to capture the ATP Finals in London at the end of that season.

He was less impressive across 2019 but he opened his 2020 campaign by reaching his first ever semifinal at a major at the Australian Open, losing a hard-fought contest against the industrious Austrian Dominic Thiem. Now, Zverev has replicated that feat in New York after toppling Borna Coric for only the second time in five career meetings, avenging a loss to the Croatian at the 2017 U.S. Open. Quite clearly, Zverev is right where he wants to be after establishing himself as the first German man since Boris Becker to make it to two semifinals at the majors in one season.

And yet, Zverev knows full well he will need to elevate his game considerably if he wants to secure a major title for the first time in his career. In four of his five matches en route to the semifinals he has dropped a set. Moreover, he was down a set, trailing 4-2 in the second and very fortunate to avoid a two-set deficit against Coric. He was not playing well at all and his tension and uncertainty was almost palpable.

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But none of that really matters. Zverev found a way to move past his nerves and garner a victory that was well deserved in the end. His play was decidedly better during the last two sets of a four-set triumph than it was in the early stages. Zverev initially worked his way back into the match with sheer discipline and willpower, by refusing to beat himself, by forcing Coric to be entirely conscious of the mounting pressure and the score line. Once that strategy worked, Zverev rediscovered his weapons and asserted himself in a more free wheeling manner.

The opening set featured Coric succeeding with strategic acumen and fine court sense. Zverev, meanwhile, was out of sorts. At 1-2 in that first set, Zverev served three double faults and that enabled Coric to break for 3-1. Coric rallied from 15-40 for 4-1 and then broke a listless Zverev again for 5-1. Coric served it out comfortably in the seventh game, winning the set 6-1.

In the fifth game of the second set, Zverev wasted a 40-0 lead and four points altogether as an enterprising Coric outplayed him time and again in cautious backcourt exchanges. Coric achieved the break and then held on for 4-2. He was closing in on a two-set lead.

But after Zverev concluded the seventh game with a love hold on consecutive aces, Coric lost his edge in the eighth game. He led 4-3, 40-15 but tightened up significantly. Zverev broke back for 4-4 with a whistling forehand pass clipping the sideline. After both players held twice to set up a tie-break, Coric took a 3-2 lead on a Zverev double fault. But the German kept his poise, rallied to 4-4, and prevailed 7-5 as Coric imploded on the critical points.

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Taking that 75 minute second set gave Zverev a new lease on life. The players exchanged service breaks in the third and fourth games of the third set. By now the standard of play on both sides of the net was unmistakably improved. They kept sedulously holding serve, but Zverev performed gallantly at 5-6, 15-30.

On the single most important point of the match, he improbably rescued himself with a brilliant bit of improvisation. Coric had control of the rally, and followed a semi-drop shot into the net. The 6’6” Zverev scampered forward swiftly, and somehow chipped a backhand pass down the line for a dazzling winner. Rather than being precariously stationed at 15-40 and double set point down, Zverev was back to the safer territory of 30-30. He took the next two points for 6-6 and came into the pivotal third set tie-break with a sense of optimism.

In that sequence, Zverev was almost letter perfect, while Coric wilted under pressure. The Croatian’s increasingly vulnerable forehand faltered flagrantly. Zverev served magnificently. He prevailed 7-1 in that tie-break to move ahead two sets to one.

At 2-2 in the fourth set, Zrerev trailed 0-40 but a succession of unprovoked mistakes by Coric off the forehand allowed Zverev to escape. He saved four break points altogether in that game and held on steadfastly for 3-2.

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With Coric serving at 3-4, 30-40, Zverev made his move, making a spectacular forehand passing shot winner down the line. Serving for the match in the following game, Zverev was tested but he took himself across the finish line by converting on his third match point with a thundering 133 MPH service winner down the T. Zverev was victorious 1-6, 7–6 (5), 7-6 (1), 6-3.

Asked afterwards by Brad Gilbert of ESPN about how he turned the match around from a set and a break down, Zverev responded, “I just started playing a little more aggressively because if I had kept playing at the level I had been playing, it is not the level of a quarterfinal at a Grand Slam event. I had to start playing better so I was a little more consistent and my serve got better, I thought to myself, ‘I am down 6-1, 4-2 so I have nothing to lose.’”

Asked about the improvement in his second serve as he started going for it more fearlessly with force down the stretch, Zverev said, “I felt like my first serve percentage was quite high. In that moment when I feel comfortable with my serve I feel like I have a good chance of making that big second serve. That is what I did and it worked out well.”

Zverev was delighted with how he responded on that crucial point at 5-6, 15-30 in the third set. He said, “It was a huge point but this is what I have been doing for the past six months. I have been in the gym and on the track trying to get my speed up and my conditioning as well. This is the moment when it pays off.”

But Zverev is not content with a semifinal showing—not in the least. He said, “It’s a great accomplishment but I don’t want to stop here. It’s great to be in the semifinals but I hope I can continue going the way I have been doing.”