QF Preview: Zverev Seeks Slam Breakthrough Against Resurgent Wawrinka
Alexander Zverev, the 2018 Nitto ATP Finals champion, has long been a prospect to make a deep run at a Grand Slam. A three-time ATP Masters 1000 champion, the 22-year-old is missing one accomplishment from his resume: a Grand Slam semi-final. On Wednesday, he’ll get his shot at the Australian Open, but it will be anything but easy.
Zverev, who has not lost a set yet this fortnight, will play three-time major champion Stan Wawrinka in the Melbourne quarter-finals.
“The draw isn't getting easier,” said Zverev, whose two previous Slam quarter-finals came at Roland Garros. “Stan is a Grand Slam champion, multiple-[time] Grand Slam champion. It's going to be very difficult playing against him.”
In 2008, when Zverev made his first trip to the last eight at Roland Garros, he needed to win three five-setters to do so. Last year, he needed two of them. But he has won all 12 of his sets this Australian Open, where he only previously made the fourth round once from four attempts. That gives the German plenty of confidence.
“I don't have a reason not to be right now. I've played against very good opponents so far this week,” said Zverev, who ousted red-hot Russian Andrey Rublev in the third round. “We'll see. But there's only the eight best players in the world left. I think everybody who's still here has a chance.”
Wawrinka has plenty of experience in these moments. The 2014 Australian Open champion showed some of his vintage form on Monday when he rallied past fourth seed Daniil Medvedev in a five-set thriller. It takes a special performance to hit through Medvedev’s typically impenetrable wall, but the Swiss did just that.
“He showed why he's a Grand Slam champion, beating Medvedev, coming back from two-sets-to-one down, playing great tennis,” Zverev said. “He's still one of the toughest players to play, especially here in Australia.”
Wawrinka, who also made the quarter-finals at Roland Garros and the US Open last year, is trying to make his first major semi-final since 2017 Roland Garros, where he advanced to the championship match. It has been an uphill climb since then, as Wawrinka underwent two left knee surgeries in August 2017. He has not won a title since 2017 Geneva.
That is why his performance against Medvedev was so encouraging. Wawrinka defeated Stefanos Tsitsipas in an epic at Roland Garros last year, but his level against Medvedev appeared even higher, with his booming groundstrokes in full flight.
“I think last time I played so well was before the surgery,” Wawrinka said. “I feel since the off-season my level is really high. Physically I'm moving better than last year. So I'm improving.”
One aspect of this clash to watch for is Zverev’s serving. The 11-time ATP Tour champion hit 31 double faults in seven sets at the ATP Cup, losing all three of his matches in that event. He has struck just 10 double faults in 12 sets in Melbourne.
“It’s a matter of doing the hours on the court, feeling comfortable on the court, then winning matches. As I said in the beginning of the tournament, it's going to be a process. I hope that every match will be better and better,” Zverev said. “The first match wasn't the best, but I won. The second match wasn't the best either, but I won. Then it went better and better. I hope it will continue being like that.”
Zverev leads the pair’s ATP Head2Head 2-0, but their most recent meeting came nearly three years ago at 2017 Miami. Wawrinka knows he will need to bring the same level he showed against Medvedev once again.
“He’s been in the Top 10, Top 5 since a few years now. I also lost to him a [couple] times,” Wawrinka said. “It's going to be a difficult match, for sure.”