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Zverev vs Johnson ATP Halle live streaming, preview and tips - Zverev targets return to Noventi Open quarter-finals

Andrew Hendrie in ATP Tour 20 Jun 2019
  • Alexander Zverev vs Steve Johnson is live from Halle around 3.00pm local time on Thursday (2.00pm BST)
  • Johnson won their only previous clash in Miami in 2016
Alexander Zverev (PA Images)

World No. 5 Alexander Zverev continues to search for his best tennis as he prepares to face Steve Johnson in the second round of the Noventi Open in Halle on Thursday.

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Two-time Halle runner-up Alexander Zverev faces two-time ATP grass-court champion Steve Johnson for a place in the Noventi Open quarter-finals on Thursday.

It’s no secret Zverev has been struggling and operating well below his best level all season, and he was dragged into another battle in his Halle opening round on Monday - but it could have been even tighter. After winning the first set 6-4 over Robin Haase, the Dutchman quickly sprinted out to a 5-2 lead in the second as he looked to force a decider, but Zverev - who’s effort has never been in question during a challenging 2019 - fought back and reeled off five straight games to close out the match in straight sets and avoid a second straight first round elimination in Halle after he went down to defending champion Borna Coric 12 months ago.

“This is probably one of my favourite tournaments and I’m always motivated here. Last year, I played with an injury here and lost first round and this year I really want to do well. I hope this was a good start for a good tournament for me,” Zverev said.

As Zverev says, Halle is a special tournament for him - the German claimed his first ever top 10 scalp at the 500-level tournament when he beat Roger Federer in the 2016 semi-finals, only to lose to Florian Mayer in the final, while he was a runner-up again in 2017 to Federer. However, the 22-year-old will have to raise his level if he is to challenge for the title again, with Federer once again the top seed and gunning for a record 10th title at the event.

Heading into the grass season last year, Zverev had won 34 matches, secured two titles (including the Madrid Masters) and finished up at the Miami Masters, but this year (prior to Halle) he’d only managed 23 match wins (to 12 losses) and just one title at the lowly 250-event in Geneva just prior to Roland Garros. Zverev also doesn’t have a single top 10 win to his name in 2019, compared to four by this stage in 2018.

It’s certainly not the direction I and most people thought Zverev would be heading after he beat Federer and Novak Djokovic to win the biggest title of his career at the season-ending Nitto ATP Finals in London at the end of 2018. But, for whatever reason (and Zverev has stated he’s been dealing with off-court distractions), the German has regressed badly in 2019, adopting a much more defensive mindset that has seen him fail to impose himself on matches and suffer a lot of defeats to players ranked much lower than him. Despite reaching his second Grand Slam quarter-final at the French Open, Zverev’s level didn’t get any better as he battled through five-setters against John Millman and Dusan Lajovic before being thrashed by Djokovic, while he was taken out by Dustin Brown in his opening match in Stuttgart last week. Can he find his groove in Halle this week?

Steve Johnson (PA Images)
Steve Johnson is the man trying to inflict the latest surprise loss on the World No. 5. Johnson is having a fairly bad season so far in 2019 - he failed to beat a top 100 player until March and had won just six matches all year before scoring a very good 6-3 6-3 victory over former Halle champion Philipp Kohlschreiber in the opening round. After beating Taylor Fritz for his first top 100 win of the season at Indian Wells, Johnson went on to lose his next five matches before making the quarter-finals in Lyon, but he followed that up with a straight sets defeat to Roberto Bautista Agut in Roland Garros and a three-set loss to Gael Monfils in the opening round of Stuttgart - and his ranking has dropped to No. 76 as a result.

However, at his best, Johnson is a very solid player and someone who can be extremely dangerous on grass. After making the full-time transition from college tennis to the ATP World Tour, Johnson’s career-best season came in 2016 when he won his first ATP title on the grass of Nottingham, reached the semi-finals of the ATP 500 event in Washington D.C. and the quarter-finals of the Cincinnati Masters, Queen’s Club, Newport and the Rio Olympics, where he came closer than anyone to beating eventual gold medalist Andy Murray. Johnson also made the Round of 16 at a Grand Slam for the first time at Wimbledon, defeating Grigor Dimitrov before losing to Roger Federer as he hit a career-high ranking of No. 21. The American has gone on to win three more ATP titles over the last two seasons, winning Houston twice in back-to-back years, while he also took home the Newport silverware on grass last season - although it must be said, those are two of the weakest ATP 250 tournaments on the calendar. All up, Johnson hasn’t really kicked on from his 2016 season, but he does remain a dangerous player and someone who should never be underestimated.

Johnson actually leads his head-to-head with Zverev 1-0 after beating the German in straight sets in the second round of Miami in 2016 - but that was his best season and Zverev was still a teenager rising through the ranks. As mentioned, Johnson can do some damage on grass with his big serve, punishing forehand and solid slice - and if all of those shots are working on Thursday, I’d say he certainly has a chance of claiming a first top five win in Zverev’s current form. However, Zverev has been battling hard despite his loss of form, and with Johnson out of form himself (his win over Kohlschreiber notwithstanding), you’ve got to lean with the second seed to get the job done and make the quarter-finals.

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Zverev vs Johnson ATP Halle live streaming, preview and tips - Zverev targets return to Noventi Open quarter-finals

World No. 5 Alexander Zverev continues to search for his best tennis as he prepares to face Steve Johnson in the second round of the Noventi Open in Halle on Thursday.

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