Halle 2017: Alexander Zverev fights back to beat Gasquet and set dream final vs Federer
Alexander Zverev will play Roger Federer in the final in Halle after battling past Frenchman Richard Gasquet
As if one battle of the generations in one afternoon was not enough, the victory of 35-year-old Roger Federer over 21-year-old Karen Khachanov was followed by another. The 31-year-old Richard Gasquet would take on 20-year-old German star, Alexander Zverev, to contest the other final place in Halle.
Gasquet, though a former top-10 player, was not the most hotly tipped to reach the semis here: His form has so often been affected by injury in recent seasons, particularly repeated back problems and, this year, an appendectomy, that he was currently ranked 30, but here was a man who has always had flair in buckets.
He was world junior No1 after claiming both the French and US Open junior titles. He won his very first match against Roger Federer as a teenager well over a decade ago and has twice been a semi-finalist at Wimbledon. What’s more, the first two titles he ever won were on grass.
But Zverev is perhaps the most impressive of the #NextGen players making their mark on the senior tour. As well as being a finalist here in Halle last year, he had three titles this year, one of them the hugely prestigious Rome Masters, and was not just the leader by some margin in the Race to Milan—for the best players age 21 and under—but was a serious contender for the main-tour finale at the O2 after breaking the top 10 last month.
Zverev has many assets on a tennis court: huge power from the back of the court and on serve, plus not a little agility in the front of the court from the doubles tennis he plays with his elder brother.
But perhaps his greatest strength is his confidence and mental determination. Witness his comeback against No7 seed Roberto Bautista Agut after losing the first set tie-break to reach this semi-final. And the young German’s performance across the board this week had been good: He was yet to drop serve.
But Gasquet would present as big a test as anyone in a thrilling three-setter that produced points of high quality, as both players went on the offensive at every opportunity. Indeed it was a pleasure to see Gasquet, who in recent years has often retreated to the back of the court, taking the ball on the front foot and going after the Zverev serve. It was almost possible to see why the single-hander was once dubbed a ‘young Federer’.
They exchanged early breaks, then stood toe-to-toe until the 10th game: a break for the aggressive Gasquet, 6-4.
The Frenchman continued in the same vein in the second set with a love hold, and had the chance to break in the second, but Zverev—showing all that mental resolve—held. Then it was Gasquet’s turn to hold off a break point in the third game, but come the fifth, the German got the breakthrough and hammered home the point to hold with two aces.
Gasquet still did not hold back, and slotted a glorious forehand winner to hold for 4-5, but Zverev’s serving was ruthless in holding for the set, 6-4.
It was nip and tuck in a pulsating third set, though Gasquet’s touch seemed to be back, and he made a handful of drop-shot winners in edging to 3-3. Then it was the Zverev power that took control, and at the second attempt, he broke the Frenchman with a forehand winner—and aced again to hold for 5-3.
In the end, indeed, it was the German’s stronger serving that won the day as Gasquet’s first-serve level dropped close to 50 percent, and that was an open invitation to Zverev’s baseline power. Gasquet held off two break points but double faulted twice in a tired final game. The brightest star among the new wave of players made had his second final here, 6-3.
That sets perhaps the perfect final showdown for the tournament: Zverev made such a breakthrough here last year, and has gone on to fly the German flag with a maturity beyond his years. That he beat Federer here, too, gives a title match against that very man an extra spice to proceedings.
Perhaps the young man, with the confidence from that win, plus almost two hours in which to groove his game against another single-handed backhand, will enter the final as favourite. He may even be the favourite with the German crowd.
But then again, Federer has risen to some extraordinary tests this year already, not least beating six top-10 players this season to claim the Australian Open, Indian Wells and Miami titles, including beating Rafael Nadal in all three tournaments.
And if there is one place he loves—and is loved—more than anywhere, it is in Halle. He could be, even against Zverev, the favourite on both counts.
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