Nitto ATP Finals hopefuls, Alexander Zverev and Stefanos Tsitsipas meet for the fourth time on Saturday as they battle for a spot in the China Open final.
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Zverev is into the Beijing semi-finals for the second time, having first made the last four in 2017, while Tsitsipas is competing in the Chinese capital for the first time in his career.
While Tsitsipas began the week in sixth position on the ATP’s Race to London, and very likely to qualify for the season-ending Nitto ATP Finals for the first time, Zverev, who won the tournament in London last year, was in 11th on the Race at the start of the week, and in danger of missing out of the prestigious meet. The German has significantly boosted his London chances over the last few days with a solid showing in Beijing.
He has been particularly dominant against the Next Gen stars, dismissing Frances Tiafoe 6-3 6-2 in the first round, breezing past Felix Auger-Aliassime 6-3 6-1 in the second, before outlasting big-serving American, Sam Querrey, 7-6 6-2 in the quarter finals.
Outside the Grand Slams, this is only the fourth time this season that Zverev has won three or more matches in a single tournament, as the German seeks the big finish to what has been a difficult season. He has won just the one title- at the ATP 500 meet in Geneva- while his only other final was in Acapulco, where he lost to Nick Kyrgios. This is only his fourth semi-final of the season. His Grand Slam record continues to be mediocre, as he made just the one major quarter final, at Roland Garros, in 2019.
There has been nothing mediocre about his week in Beijing.
Zverev has had big problems with his serve in recent months, but that shot has held up brilliantly this week, as the 22-year-old is yet to be broken, and has hit 21 aces and just five double faults across his three matches. He struck six aces and zero double faults against Querrey in Friday’s quarter final. The former world No. 3 served at 74% for the match, winning 82% of points on his first serve and 63% on his second.
Both men had a break point each during the first set- neither of which was converted- but Zverev took control of the ensuing tie break, winning five of the last six points to take the opener. He pulled away from 2-2 in the second set, winning the final four games to complete another quality win in an hour and 12 minutes.
“I am very happy to be in the semi-finals,” said Zverev. “I am very happy with the way I am playing and tomorrow is going to be a very interesting match against Stefanos. A lot of spectators are looking forward to that and I am as well”.
“He is my Laver Cup team mate. We got a little bit closer at the Laver Cup as well. We understand each other very well now, so I hope it is going to be a fantastic match.”
Indeed, Zverev and Tsitsipas have a bit of history between them, with the German recently critical of the Greek’s on-court behaviour during the US Open, but both men seemed to get along well enough at the recently concluded Laver Cup, as Zverev pointed out ahead Saturday’s meeting.
After storming out of the blocks in 2019, beating Roger Federer en route a maiden Grand Slam semi-final in Australia, winning titles in Marseille and Estoril, reaching finals in Dubai and Madrid and breaking into the top ten, Tsitsipas has gone off the boil in recent weeks, as he arrived Beijing on a five-match losing streak.
However, the Greek young gun has put together three wins in the Chinese capital, coming from a set down to beat Dusan Lajovic and last year’s champion, Nikoloz Basilashvili, before taking out John Isner 7-6 6-3 in Friday’s quarter final.
Tsitsipas had never taken a set off Isner in their two previous meetings, but four of the five sets they had played were tie breaks, and it was therefore to no one’s surprise when the opening set of their Beijing encounter drifted into a breaker. Tsitsipas got the immediate mini break, and never relinquished the advantage as he went on to take his first set against Isner. The third seed rammed home his advantage early in the second set, jumping out to a 3-0 lead. He completely shut out Isner after that, rounding off the win in an hour and 13 minutes. Tsitsipas had a very productive day behind his serve, hitting eight aces, just one less than Isner’s total, and conceding just nine points on serve. He was also rock solid off the ground, striking 25 winners and offering just 7 unforced errors.
It sets up a fascinating rematch with Zverev, with the Greek seeking a third successive victory over his German rival. Zverev won their first meeting in Washington in 2018, but Tsitsipas hit back with victory in Toronto in the following week, before taking their most recent encounter at the Madrid Open in May. Their last two matches have been decided in three sets.
The serve will be key, and whoever does a better job from the service line would have taken a huge step towards victory. Off the ground, Zverev’s two-handed backhand is more dependable that Tsitsipas’ single-hander, but the Greek counters that with a more reliable forehand. Tsitsipas is also the natural aggressor, and will look to come to the net as often as possible to finish off points.
There really isn’t very much to choose between them- Zverev is serving significantly better than he has done for most of the season, and has generally played the better tennis in Beijing, but Tsitsipas looked really good against Isner, and appears to be rounding into some form after his recent struggles.
Alexander Zverev vs Stefanos Tsitsipas is live from Beijing on Saturday, 5 October from 9:00pm local time/ 2:00pm BST