Alexander Zverev’s appetite for five-set marathons showed no signs of shrinking and even blisters on his toes could not stop the German from storming into his first major quarter-final with a 4-6 7-6(4) 2-6 6-3 6-3 French Open win over Karen Khachanov on Sunday.
The German had survived successive five-setters in the previous two rounds, including saving a match point against Damir Dzumhur in the last 32, but his fatigued legs and blistered feet again worked overtime to carry him over the finishing line against Khachanov.
“I am young so I might as well stay on court for a while and entertain you guys,” the 21-year-old Zverev, who became the youngest man to reach the quarter-finals at Roland Garros since 2009, told the cheering crowd.
“All the hours I have spent in the gym has definitely paid off as I was down two-sets-to-one in each of the three matches.”
After looking down and out for much of the third set, Zverev was fired up by a code violation for being coached from the stands by his father Alexander Sr. midway through the fourth set and he vented his anger by instantly breaking for a 4-2 lead.
He was fortunate to survive a break point when serving for the set at 5-3, with Khachanov’s blazing forehand clipping the net cord and bouncing just millimetres behind the baseline.
While Khachanov’s misfiring racket felt the full force of his exasperation, with the Russian punching his strings with his clenched knuckles, Zverev fired down an ace moments later to draw level at two sets apiece.
Despite calling on a trainer to treat blisters on his left toes before the start of the fifth set, the world number three zipped around with ease to break in the opening game of the decider and finished off the 38th-ranked Russian after three-and-a-half hours of pulsating action.
Once Khachanov’s forehand was caught by the net, a beaming Zverev thumped his heart with his right palm before he sank to his knees and pumped both fists into the skies.
He will next play seventh seed Dominic Thiem.
Impressive Thiem downs Nishikori to set up Zverev clash
Dominic Thiem ended Kei Nishikori’s comeback to reach the quarter-finals of the French Open with a 6-2 6-0 5-7 6-4 victory on Sunday and set up a mouthwatering clash with second seed Alexander Zverev.
The Austrian seventh seed, the last man to beat claycourt machine Rafa Nadal on his favourite surface, displayed an impressive arsenal of weapons in the first two sets before regaining his composure after the loss of the third.
Japanese 19th seed Nishikori, on the comeback trail after he ended his 2017 season in mid-year because of injury, seemed to lose interest in the match in the second set but eventually managed to put up a decent fight.
“The first two sets were amazing but then he raised his level and it was 50-50. In the end it was very close and I was a bit nervous in the end as it is always hard to serve to reach the quarter-finals of the French Open,” said Thiem, a semi-finalist here in 2016 and 2017.
“I love these conditions; it was the first time for me on Court Philippe Chatrier not playing against Rafa so I could enjoy the court”, he joked.
Thiem had too much power and speed for Nishikori, who was overwhelmed in the opening set, which the Austrian bagged with an ace in under half an hour.
It got even worse for Nishikori in the second set as Thiem toyed with him, notably with a stunning drop-shot service return, and the Japanese could manage only nine points in the set.
In the first two sets, the Austrian won 25 of 25 points on his first serve.
In the third set, however, Nishikori stayed in touch as he served better and finished off points at the net, which unsettled Thiem who grew frustrated.
Nishikori seized his first break opportunity at 6-5 to take the set when Thiem’s forehand flew long.
The Austrian, who ended 10-times French Open champion Nadal’s streak of 50 consecutive sets won on clay in Madrid, broke decisively for 4-3 in the fourth set with a trademark forehand winner.
He then held serve throughout to wrap it up on his second match point when Nishikori sent a forehand long under the eyes of Nadal.
Resurgent Djokovic tames Verdasco
Resurgent former champion Novak Djokovic moved ominously into the French Open quarter-finals for the 12th time on Sunday as he subdued feisty Spanish veteran Fernando Verdasco 6-3 6-4 6-2.
The Serb, seeded 20th after a well-documented form slump, was given a ferocious fight in the early stages with the opening three games lasting 29 minutes on Court Philippe Chatrier.
But what looked like being a long evening for the 12-times Grand Slam champion ended up being a reasonably comfortable one as he kept Verdasco at arm’s length.
One break of serve was enough to take the opening set and although left-hander Verdasco produced thunderous winners to stay in touch in the second his challenge soon faded.
After arriving in Paris with his lowest seeding since 2006 and his expectations not much higher, the former world number one appears to be rediscovering his mojo at the right time.
The draw has fallen in his favour with Verdasco having removed fourth seed Grigor Dimitrov and he had another slice of fortune on Sunday when eighth seed David Goffin was beaten by unheralded Italian Marco Cecchinato.
Cecchinato will hold few fears for Djokovic who moved up a gear against Verdasco — a dangerous opponent who has three claycourt victories over the Serb.
Verdasco saved a break point in a 22-point second game and exerted huge pressure on Djokovic in a marathon third game but could not convert two break points of his own.
The pace was getting to Verdasco and he hit a forehand long in the next game to give Djokovic a decisive break.
Verdasco recovered a break in the second set, forcing Djokovic to net a stretching volley.
Djokovic replied immediately, finding the baseline with a deep drive that forced a miss-hit from the Spaniard.
Verdasco’s hopes of reaching his first French Open quarter-final were sunk when Djokovic nailed down a break at the start of the third set before cruising to victory.
No other player has reached 12 French Open quarter-finals in the professional era, although 10-times champion Rafael Nadal can match Djokovic’s feat if he wins on Monday.
Italian Cecchinato upsets Goffin to reach last eight
Unheralded Italian Marco Cecchinato maintained his dream run at the French Open as he moved into the quarter-finals by upsetting Belgian eighth seed David Goffin 7-5 4-6 6-0 6-3 on Sunday.
World number 72 Cecchinato, who was found guilty of match-fixing by the Federation of Italian Tennis in 2016, had never been beyond the first round of a Grand Slam before.
Cecchinato was handed an 18-month ban for match-fixing but was later cleared by the Italian Olympic Committee because of irregularities regarding how the evidence was gathered.
He can now look forward to a clash with 2016 French Open champion Novak Djokovic.
“For me it’s a dream, I’m really, really happy,” Sicilian Cecchinato, who rallied from two sets down in the first round against Marius Copil, said on court.
“And now I’m playing the quarter-finals, it’s unbelievable.
“Forza Italia!,” he added as he addressed a small contingent of Italian fans on Court Suzanne Lenglen.
The 25-year-old Cecchinato could be joined in the last eight by compatriot Fabio Fognini, who plays third-seeded Croatian Marin Cilic on Monday.
Should Fognini win, it would be only the second time since tennis turned professional in 1968 that Italy has had more than one player in the men’s singles quarter-finals at a Grand Slam.
The only other occasion was at Roland Garros in 1973, when Paolo Bertolucci and Adriano Panatta reached the last eight.
Fognini was the last Italian man to make the quarter-finals in Paris in 2011.
Cecchinato found some gravity-defying angles to outmanoeuvre Goffin in the first set.
The Belgian faced more break points in the fourth game of the second set but managed to see them off and after receiving treatment on a sore elbow, he broke for 4-3 before levelling the match.
Cecchinato, however, was on fire in the third, which he pocketed when Goffin buried a routine smash into the bottom of the net.
After an early trade of breaks in the fourth, Cecchinato broke Goffin’s serve with a fine backhand down the line to move 5-3 up.
Cecchinato kept his cool and won the next game to love, ending the contest with another backhand winner.