Western and Southern Open second round preview: Alexander Zverev vs Andy Murray
Zverev will be playing his first official singles match for six months (Image: Matthew Stockman)

Four years after their only previous meeting world number seven Alexander Zverev and former world number one Andy Murray will face off for a spot in the third round at the Western and Southern Open in New York.

The only previous meeting between the two came in the opening round of the 2016 Australian Open, when Murray was the world number two and Zverev was a promising junior. The Brit unsurprisingly picked up a comfortable, dropping just six games, though the tables have turned in the four years since that meeting; Murray now finds himself at 129th in the rankings, whilst Zverev has been a top ten player for the past three years and reached his first Grand Slam semifinal in Melbourne earlier this season.

Due to his injury troubles Murray had not played on the ATP Tour in 2020 prior to the coronavirus-enforced suspension in March, meaning that his opening match against Frances Tiafoe was his first competitive match of the year. It wasn’t an easy match for the three-time Grand Slam champion but he was able to prevail in three sets to set up this encounter. Zverev, meanwhile, had the privilege of receiving a first round bye due to being one of the top eight seeds in New York. This will be his first competitive singles match since losing to Tommy Paul in Acapulco six months ago.

It's been four years since Zverev and Murray last faced off (Image: Saeed Khan)
It's been four years since Zverev and Murray last faced off (Image: Saeed Khan)

Analysis

There can be little doubt that, due to the gulf in ranking and their respective results in the past few seasons, that Zverev heads into this match as the favorite to win. The German will look to use his heavy groundstrokes to try and dictate play and take advantage of any limitations in Murray’s movement. Zverev may particularly look to attack on the Brit’s second serve which is not quite as potent as it once was.

However, Zverev has his own troubles on serve to deal with. Though the problem seemingly went away during his run to the last four at the Australian Open the fifth seed has struggled with serving over the past year or so, serving large amounts of double faults at the ATP Cup in January and even during the ill-fated Adria Tour earlier this summer. In his prime Murray was one of the best returners on the tour and if he gets several looks at the German’s second serve, he too may be able to try and take control; he may also be able to force several double faults out of his opponent.

Murray beat Frances Tiafoe in his first round match (Image: Matthew Stockman)
Murray beat Frances Tiafoe in his first round match (Image: Matthew Stockman)

Match fitness and practice could also prove to be a factor. Whilst every player on tour will be generally short of matches currently, one advantage for Murray is that he has played an opening round match to shake off any cobwebs there may have been. Zverev is arguably the fitter of the two at the moment which is understandably a huge advantage, but it would also be understandable if his game was a little rusty after almost six months without a competitive singles match.

Assessment

In a draw depleted by withdrawals across both the ATP and WTA Tours this matchup is arguably ideal for the tournament to create further interest, and it will certainly be useful in helping us gauge where Zverev and Murray are ahead of next week’s US Open at Flushing Meadows.

Murray looked very solid towards the end of his first round match against Tiafoe and it seems more than possible that he could provide some trouble for Zverev. However, the German has to be the favorite to win this encounter based on the past few seasons, and he should be able to prevail in spite of any lack of match practice.

Prediction: Alexander Zverev in straight sets

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