Alexander Zverev up to No18 after denying three-time Montpellier champ Gasquet for second title—plus doubles
Alexander Zverev beats home favourite Richard Gasquet 7-6 (7/4), 6-3 in Montpellier to land his second career ATP title
The rise and rise of 19-year-old Alexander Zverev has continued apace during 2017, beginning with a win over Roger Federer in the Hopman Cup, then his second close encounter and near miss against Rafael Nadal at the Australian Open, and this week, a hard-fought run to his fourth career final as the ATP tour headed back to Europe and to indoor courts.
Since making the semi-finals in Montpellier this time last year, the #NextGen star had earned match point against Nadal in Indian Wells, made his first final on the clay of Nice, beaten Federer on his way to his next final on the grass of Halle, and won his first title indoors in St Petersburg, beating Tomas Berdych and Stan Wawrinka in the process. It made him the youngest ATP champion since Nishikori in 2008, and he went on to become the youngest top-20 player in nearly a decade—since Novak Djokovic.
And with his run to the final back in Montpellier, he now had the chance to reach a new career high: If he won the title, he would rise to No18.
But in the final he was playing the stylish tennis of Richard Gasquet, a home favourite of many years’ standing in this particular corner of homeland France.
The flair and flourish of Gasquet has won the Open Sud de France three times in the last four years—and in 2014 he was runner-up, too. He thus arrived at his first meeting against the rangy and powerful teenager on an eight-match winning streak in Montpellier, and with a 17-3 record. He had also made more seamless progress through the week than the man 11 years his junior, dropping only one set compared with Zverev’s three three-setters—and then there was the younger man’s efforts alongside brother Mischa to reach the Montpellier final, too.
Not that Zverev seemed to want for energy in the early stages of this match, despite his gruelling 2hrs 20mins against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga the day before: He broke Gasquet in the first game and held to lead 2-0.
But then came the variety, angle and touch of the Frenchman to break back. The young German would have to make some tactical adjustments, and he threw in a couple of net plays and sliced his way through deuce to hold at 4-4. They would edge to a tie-break.
Now Zverev’s power from the baseline on both wings shone through, along with a remarkably resolute focus on the job in hand for one so young. He drove a backhand winner down the line to grab the first point against serve, and changed ends at 4-2 up.
Gasquet was feeling the pressure against the aggressive play of Zverev and hit his first double fault to go 2-6. With 50 minutes on the clock, Zverev forced one more error from the Frenchman for the set, 7-6(4).
The German kept up the pressure, glaring at the brother and father sat courtside. The frustration of imperfection oozes from this young player, yet he quickly settles once the ball is in play. Gasquet managed to fend off Zverev through a tough sixth game, went 30-0 up on the German’s serve, only to see three huge deliveries and a backhand smash shoot past.
Come the eighth game, Zverev proved his ever-improving fitness with some fine defence across the baseline and a running backhand pass, his 10th of the match, to get a break opportunity. Sure enough, he took full advantage to serve for the match. An eighth ace and a backhand smash later, and Zverev was the champion—and the new world No18.
He afterwards had little time to speak to the crowds, not helped by a broken microphone and dual-language explanations. But as Zverev explained:
“I want to congratulate Richard, he’s won three titles here. But my tournament is not done yet. Thank you all, and I hope some of you will stay for the doubles, where me and my brother will try and get another title!”
That award ceremonies are still relatively new territory for this young man became clear as an older man with the same bright blue eyes meandered behind the photographers, taking his own pictures. Yes, it was Zverev’s father, Alexander senior, making the most of a special afternoon.
And it would become an even more special afternoon a couple of hours later. Sascha and his elder brother, Mischa, who reached his own career-high singles ranking of 34 after his first run to a Grand Slam quarter-final—beating Andy Murray—in Australia, won the Montpellier doubles title too.
And you can be sure their father was there to watch—and snap the photos.