Rotterdam 2018: Zverev falls to veteran Seppi, but Rublev and Medvedev keep #NextGen flag flying

Third seed Alexander Zverev loses to Italy's Andreas Seppi in the round of 16 in Rotterdam

Alexander Zverev
Alexander Zverev in action in Rotterdam Photo: Marianne Bevis

The leading light of the so-called #NextGen group of players, Alexander Zverev, rightly had high hopes of his chances at the ABN AMRO Tennis Championships this year.

After a 2017 season that saw the 20-year-old win two Masters among five titles and end the season as No4 in the world, he was able to play the World Tour Finals in London rather than the NextGen ATP Finals in Milan.

So he had every right to begin 2018 with confidence, and that was on show in his run to the final of the Hopman Cup—where he lost in three sets to Roger Federer—plus two good wins in Davis Cup, even if the Australian Open saw him fade in a close five-setter against eventual semi-finalist, Hyeon Chung.

And Rotterdam was one of the first tournaments where, as a wild card, he showed the prodigious talent that would take him to such heights: a quarter-final run at the age of 18. The draw seemed to be working in his favour, too, give or take a possible semi-final against Federer. After beating David Ferrer in his opener with relative ease, Zverev faced a lucky loser and then a qualifier.

But perhaps the residual tiredness of Australia—where the young German stayed to play that Davis Cup tie—finally caught up with him. He did admit to jet lag and the need for as much sleep as possible after his opener here, and he came unstuck against the crisp, penetrating percentage tennis of Andreas Seppi in the second round, 6-4, 6-3.

The German-speaking Italian has not won a title in many a long year, and reached his last final almost three years ago. He has been troubled by hip injuries in recent years, too, and saw his ranking fall outside the top 100 last season for the first time in a decade. Yet on his day, Seppi can produce the kind of tennis to disrupt the best. He did so here in 2008 against Rafael Nadal, and beat Federer in the third round of the Australian Open in 2015.

For the second year in a row, he reached the fourth round of the Australian Open, after winning the Canberra Challenger, and he beat Ivo Karlovic in an extraordinary 6-3, 7-6, 6-7, 6-7, 9-7 contest, despite facing 52 aces.

He followed Australia with a trip to Japan for Davis Cup, and another five-set marathon. Then it was back to Europe and indoors, where he lost a 2hr 34min three-setter in the second round.

And so to Rotterdam, where he lost his second qualifying match to Martin Klizan, only to pick up a lucky-loser place—and he has now beaten both Joao Sousa, in another three-setter, and Zverev, to reach the quarter-finals. He admitted:

“He of course didn’t play his best tennis. Missed a lot of forehands. But it’s a long time since I beat a top-10 player and it’s nice to be in the quarter-finals again here.”

There he would meet the survivor of a very tight contest between two qualifiers, NextGen Daniil Medvedev, who turned 22 last week, or Pierre-Hugues Herbert, a doubles Major champion with the net skills to match.

Medvedev is another man on the rise, winning his first title in Sydney in January the hard way, via qualifying. He was into the second round here via qualies and also a fine win over No9 seed Gilles Muller. He is tall, rangy, with formidable power behind his ground strokes, but the all-court game of Herbert clearly disrupted the Russian’s rhythm, and earned the Frenchman the first set, 6-3.

Herbert came under greater pressure in the second set, and saved four break points on his way to a tie-break, but still played his bold, forward-moving tennis. He could not, though, break down the accurate and deep shots of Medvedev, who dug in with considerable character to draw level, 7-6(2).

That resilience was enough to get the one break required for the deciding set, though Herbert dropped not a point on his first serve, 12 for 12. The Frenchman had a break point to level in the eighth game, but was now rushing his volleys, and now pushed this important one long. Medvedev made no mistake in serving it out after two and a quarter hours, 6-4, and will next take his chance against Seppi.

In the bottom half of the draw, the explosive 20-year-old Andrey Rublev took on Damir Dzumhur in a high-quality clash that swung back and forth. Dzumhur, whose form has taken him to a career-high No29 via two titles in Moscow and St Petersburg last autumn, got the first break, 3-1, but Rublev broke back to level 4-4, and promptly broke again for the set, 6-4.

Rublev got first blood in the second set, too, but each was running the other ragged, changing the direction of the ball on a dime from the baseline. Dzumhur levelled for 2-2, and there was another exchange of breaks for 5-4. Dzumhur fended off two match points in the 10th game and it headed to a tie-break. Eventually, the superior pace and angle of the young Russian’s shot-making edged him ahead and into the quarter-finals, 7-6(4).

Rublev is already ranked 34 in the world, has a title to his name, and reached the quarter-finals of the US Open last year—beating his possible next opponent in the process, No2 seed Grigor Dimitrov. He seems to be maturing before our eyes, not least here in Rotterdam, where he put paid to No7 seed Lucas Pouille in the first round.

Indeed Rublev, along with David Goffin and Federer, have so far impressed the most in Rotterdam. There are others who could upset before the final weekend—Tomas Berdych has cruised, Dimitrov is one of the form men of recent months, and then there is Seppi, who has already upset the odds.

Stay tuned: the generations have clashed here since day one, and they look set to do so in a few more matches yet.

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