Long considered 'A New Hope', the veritable successors to the old guard, both Dominic Thiem and Alexander Zverev today were stretched going into Round 3 of the Australian Open. The Austrian, in particular, faced a home player in wildcard Alex Bolt, whose best Grand Slam showing was a third-round finish at the US Open in 2018.
Thiem, for a while now, has been tipped to win his first Major this year after making two back-to-back French Open finals in 2018 and 2019. But the Austrian today did not look his usual powerful self, and playing against the crowd is never easy. Although the scoreline in the first set may have made it seem like largely a Thiem affair, Bolt — bolstered by a crowd cheering in his favour, gave the 5th-seeded player a serious run for his money.
Formerly working in manual labour, the 140th-ranked Bolt looked to be in brilliant nick today against the world No 5, using almost the entire court for movement as he sent Thiem scrambling for shots from every corner. And it was on several of those occasions that the Austrian was quite simply not quick enough to return the litany of shots being thrown at him, exposing holes in his gameplay. On several occasions during the Round 2 match, it almost seemed as though Bolt, for whom his third-round finish this year was his best-ever showing at the Australian Open, had a better variety of shots than the player who has long been touted as the ‘successor to Rafael Nadal’.
It took Thiem — who did not look his impenetrable, powerful self — three hours, twenty-two minutes, and five sets, two of them taken to the brink, to win, something he should not have faced this early in a tournament given he is among the contenders to win. The crowd may have been partisan, but perhaps that is to be expected on a sporting stage such as this, something Thiem will likely have been used to.
That should not have been a factor in his match today, and the fact that he battled this hard against someone who was not even in the top 10 may not bode well for the Austrian’s hopes in Melbourne. Added to this is the fact that he now faces Taylor Fritz, who battled back from being two sets and a break down to defeat former US Open finalist Kevin Anderson. With Fritz striking the ball particularly well — as Bolt did earlier today — and Thiem looking vulnerable, it may be a tough contest for him in Round 3.
Prior to today, not many may have heard of Egor Gerasimov. Today, however, the 27-year-old gave Zverev, the 7th seed at the Australian Open, a run for his money at every step of the way during the pair’s Round 2 matchup. Zverev, who is at his best on the quickest courts, did not look bad, but far from the powerful version of himself that has defeated both Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.
Given a run for his money by his Belarusian rival, Zverev was loath to approach the net as much as Gerasimov did, instead choosing more to play it safe from the baseline. It was perhaps that play-it-safe approach that saw the first set go to a tiebreak with no breaks of serve exchanged. It was only in the second set that serve was broken, over an hour-and-a-half into the match. Zverev, who is known for his powerful groundstrokes, was engaged in some long rallies by 27-year-old Gerasimov, who stretched the gingerly-treading German in the third — and what would be final — set as well.
Zverev has spoken significantly of ‘getting back into the groove’ this year after losing his coach in 2019, but his movement was not as smooth as we are used to seeing from the player who was once pipped to be an upcoming world No 1 — something he may still yet achieve, perhaps in the future. A couple of wayward shots from Zverev and a fierce contest from Gerasimov meant that even the straight-sets win was not as straightforward as one might have wanted to see from the 7th seed. He still did not look as fluid on movement as he usually is, and particularly after his poor run of form towards the end of the last season, that is something he will want to have remedied, quickly.
For now, although Sascha Zverev is into Round 3 without dropping a set, and indeed, having committed not even a single double fault during his Round 2 match, he still comes off a spate of lacklustre results, including three losses at the ATP Cup only weeks ago. Zverev is a fan of the shorter rallies, but now faces Fernando Verdasco. And if anyone knows how to engage someone in a long rally, it’s Verdasco.
Although he looks to be regaining his form, Zverev does not look like a player about to win a major, and having been stretched already in Round 2, it looks as though the Big Four — or in this case, the Big Three — each of whom have had their own smooth sailing through the tournament so far, will continue their hold on the tournament.
It appears that the younger players, the same set of ‘successors’ to the greats of a decade ago, are unable to take that title — and the greats remain the greats.
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Updated Date: Jan 23, 2020 20:51:15 IST