Alexander Zverev hands Carlos Alcaraz a ‘major’ lesson at Australian Open 2024 | Tennis News - Hindustan Times
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Alexander Zverev hands Carlos Alcaraz a ‘major’ lesson at Australian Open 2024

By, New Delhi
Jan 24, 2024 10:34 PM IST

Alcaraz was the favourite but the German showed why he is one of the most highly regarded players on the ATP circuit.

Coming into the Australian Open quarterfinal against Carlos Alcaraz, Alexander Zverev was was 0-10 against the top-5 in the world at Grand Slams. He would reach the second week of the tournament and then succumb to pressure; to nerves; to his own expectations.

Alexander Zverev, left, of Germany is congratulated by Carlos Alcaraz of Spain following their quarterfinal match at the Australian Open(AP)
Alexander Zverev, left, of Germany is congratulated by Carlos Alcaraz of Spain following their quarterfinal match at the Australian Open(AP)

So even before the match began, many didn't give him a chance. Zverev had the better serve but Alcaraz had energy, the all-court game, the better return and had spent almost five hours less on court. And if you thought otherwise, they pointed to his record against the top players in the best of five sets encounters. It made sense. But then sport is all about second chances and the 26-year-old proved that as he cruised to a 6-1, 6-3, 6-7 (2), 6-4 victory on Wednesday.

Everyone, including those at the Rod Laver Arena, couldn't believe their eyes when the lanky German sped to a 3-0 lead in eight minutes and then wrapped up the first set 6-1, in only 29 minutes.

It all seemed to have come together for Zverev -- his serve was firing, the backhand down the line was working well and even his normally erratic forehand was getting the job done. It was all very business-like and professional. This was the version of Zverev who had been anointed as Federer's successor by many. The leader of Gen Next.

On the other side of the net was an Alcaraz that most fans would have a tough time recognising -- his game and his energy seemed to have deserted him. He jumped generations to win two Grand Slams in his first 11 Majors. But since Wimbledon 2023, he has failed to reach a final on the ATP tour. His play was a reminder of that torrid run.

But many hoped the 20-year-old Spaniard would be shaken out of his stupor by the debacle that was the first set. To an extent he was, but Zverev managed to maintain his level too.

When the German was down two breakpoints in the sixth game of the second set, he saved himself with some solid play. The missed opportunity came back to haunt Alcaraz as he was broken in the seventh game. That was all Zverev needed and he wrapped up the second set 6-3 in 42 minutes.

There was still no reaction from Alcaraz. His box wore a haunted look. No one seemed to have answers. It got worse when he was broken in the fourth game of the third set. He was trailing 1-3 and perhaps the situation had some learnings of its own.

Alcaraz kept going for the flair shots though. At no point did he change track and try a more conservative approach. The commentators were wondering whether a more solid approach would have worked. But he kept at it.

And the perseverance coupled with Zverev's nerves bore fruit in the ninth game of the third set. A forehand volley got him the break that allowed him to get the set back on serve and as he settled into his chair during the changeover, he smiled. Maybe, just maybe, he could find his true level again.

“I’m playing one of the best players in the world," said Zverev, when thinking about the blip, after the match. "Especially over the last 2 years... He’s been number 1 or number 2. He’s won 2 Grand Slams. When you’re up 6-1 6-3 5-2 you start thinking. We’re all human. It’s a great honour to play guys like him. When you start winning, your brain starts going. It’s not always helpful…"

It really wasn't helpful at all. You don't want to give the best players a chance to turn things around. Do that and you don't quite know what you might get. Alcaraz closed out the set in the tiebreaker and while Zverev took a medical timeout between sets, the Spaniard grooved to the music in the arena.

To his credit, Zverev didn't buckle. Despite the third-set setback, he didn't lose his cool. Focused on the match again, he started getting a lot more first serves in and generally took every opportunity to put the pressure back on Alcaraz. The approach paid off and he got the vital break at 4-5 and then served out the match. There was no second stumble.

The truly amazing statistic from this match was how Zverev managed to have a first-serve percentage of 85. When someone who serves as big as him does that, he becomes very hard to beat. He also won 7 out of 10 breakpoints and put Alcaraz under tremendous pressure from the start to claim his first win over a Top-5 player at a Grand Slam. In the last four, the sixth seed will face third seed Danii Medvedev.

Zverev is back in the Australian Open semi-finals for the first time since 2020 and Alcaraz will have to go back to the drawing board. He remains a special player but there is still work to be done before he can truly start to rule the game.

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