Alexander Zverev (Photo by: Daniela Porcelli/Sport Press Photo via ZUMA Press)
Still looking to secure qualification for the Nitto ATP Finals, Alexander Zverev faces a difficult start to his Paris Masters campaign as he takes on the dangerous Fernando Verdasco in the second round on Tuesday.
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Zverev is currently seventh in the Race to London, with the top eight set to qualify for the year-end Finals. The 22-year-old will definitely book his spot if he makes the final of the Paris Masters. He could still qualify even if he exits the tournament before the title match, depending the results of the other London contenders.
Zverev is looking to earn the chance to defend the Nitto ATP Finals crown he won so impressively last year, when he defeated both Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic en route his biggest career title. That form, which propelled him to No. 3 in the world at the end of last season, hasn’t quite been there for large parts of 2019, putting his participation at the year-end Finals in serious jeopardy.
He has won just the one title this year, at the ATP 250 tournament in Geneva, and has managed a 38-21 record for the season- a decent return for most players, but below par for Zverev when you consider that he has broken the 50-win barrier in each of the last two seasons.
The German was out of the qualifying places at the start of October, but he gave his chances a massive boost with a strong Asian swing, making the semi-finals in Beijing, and advancing to the final of the Masters 1000 meet in Shanghai, beating Roger Federer and fellow London contender, Matteo Berrettini before losing to Daniil Medvedev.
He however faltered in his next tournament in Basel, suffering a first round exit to Taylor Fritz, which has left him with plenty of work to do in Paris if he’s to secure a ticket to London. These Masters 1000 draws are never easy, and Paris is no exception. He opens against Verdasco, and could play Fabio Fognini, who is also in the running for Nitto ATP Finals qualification, in the third round, while Gael Monfils, another London hopeful, is a potential quarter final opponent before a possible meeting with Rafael Nadal in the last four.
His first assignment is against Nadal’s fellow left-handed Spaniard, Verdasco, who continues to carry an air of danger around him even at this late stage of his career.
Verdasco booked a date with Zverev by taking down Borna Coric in his tournament opener on Monday, recovering from the loss of the opening set to win 3-6 6-4 6-3. He got off to the worst possible start against Coric, dropping the first four games of the match, and going on to lose the first set, but he responded brilliantly to that setback, moving through the rest of the match without giving up break point. The world No. 49 served 13 aces for the match, winning 81% of points on his first serve.
Verdasco’s recent form has been poor, as he is yet to win consecutive matches since making the fourth round at Wimbledon in July, and has won just six of his last 18 matches. He had better (if sporadic) results up until Wimbledon, making quarter finals in Rome, Sofia and Eastbourne, the third-round at the Australian Open, and that fourth-round at the All England Club, but he has faded in the last few months, dropping from a season-high 26th in the rankings in July to his current mark of 49th.
Verdasco has been a constant feature at the Paris Masters over the years, as this will be his 16th consecutive main draw appearance at the tournament. His best performance remains his quarter final run in 2017, when he defeated Andrey Rublev, Kevin Anderson and Dominic Thiem before falling to eventual champion, Jack Sock.
He has caused Tuesday’s second round opponent, Zverev trouble in the past, winning two of their three career meetings- can he inflict another loss on the German and put a serious dent in the world No. 6’s Nitto ATP Finals ambitions?
Verdasco has still got that vicious leftie serve and the monster forehand to back it up, and if everything clicks, which admittedly, doesn’t happen as often these days, he remains extremely dangerous opponent. It is also worth noting that his last six defeats have come in final sets, which suggests that he has not been outright poor, but has not just had enough to get over the line.
The upset is on the table here, particularly if Zverev gets tight under the pressure of the Race to the Nitto ATP Finals.