It perhaps speaks volumes to Alexander Zverev’s resurgence over the last month that, after abdicating from a position of unassailable strength in this round 16 contest, he rekindled his composure in the second set tie-break to seal a 6-0, 7-6(4) victory over Andrey Rublev.
Zverev will perhaps perceive Rublev’s fightback midway through the second set as a positive, priceless match practice before Friday evening’s showdown with the 20-time Grand Slam champion. And because in truth he was allowed to coast for a set and a half against the Russian.
The German won nine straight games to open the contest and the contrast in body language between the two hinted at one of those ATP anomalies: a 6-0, 6-0 contest. Zverev was striking the ball with such conviction and his opponent netting groundstrokes with alarming frequency that after the 22-year-old broke to begin the second set, Rublev begged those external forces to allow him just one game before the handshake.
The Russian fightback
Instead, he rallied, shaking off the disappointment of squandering three break points in the third game of set two to restore parity. Zverev would reclaim the advantage immediately but the errors, conspicuously absent in set one, began to bite for the German.
At one stage in the opening set the winner count stood 11 to 1 in favour of Zverev. Few would have anticipated such a number considering the power Rublev possesses – as Roger Federer discovered to his detriment at the Cincinnati Masters in August.
28 minutes was all that was required for Zverev to grab the opener – and with it his first bagel set since the first round of Wimbledon last year – and the onslaught continued into the second frame.
Rublev’s prayers were answered when he made inroads into the Zverev serve in the fifth game. For the first time in the tussle the German was struggling to penetrate with his forehand.
A tie-break arrived after a quarter of an hour, the pair exchanging quick holds entirely out-of-sync with what had gone before, and it was Zverev who struck first blood when Rublev double-faulted to fall behind at the change of ends. He would claw his way back to parity two points later, but the German doubled down to fashion match point. A sumptuous backhand winner down the line sealed the victory.