Zverev Holds Off Baez To Advance In Rome

2017 champion next faces De Minaur in Italian capital

Alexander Zverev was given no time to settle in his opening match at the Internazionali BNL d'Italia in Rome on Wednesday, but the second seed raised his game to fend off a strong challenge from the in-form Sebastian Baez at the ATP Masters 1000 event.

The German struggled to find the form that carried him to a 10th Masters 1000 championship match appearance at the Mutua Madrid Open last week, but he found a sufficient level to outlast Estoril champion Baez and clinch a 7-6(6), 6-3 in an intriguing second-round encounter at the Foro Italico.

“I’m [very pleased], especially coming from Madrid to here," said Zverev after his 89-minute win over qualifier Baez. "It’s not always not easy because Madrid is at altitude and the balls are flying like crazy, but here everything is pretty slow. It wasn’t an easy match and I’m happy with the way I played at the end. He played three matches already here, it’s my first, so I’m happy with the win.”

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Despite a disappointing loss to Carlos Alcaraz in the Madrid final, the German looked back to his best at times in the Spanish capital after an inconsistent start to 2022 that has left the World No. 3 still hunting a first title of the year. He will hope to use the victory over Baez as a foundation for another deep run in Rome, where he claimed his maiden Masters 1000 title as a 20-year-old in 2017.

Although it was not the most fluent performance from Zverev, the World No.3's ballstriking ability was vital in helping him overcome the stubborn Argentine. The German fired 28 winners to his opponent’s 19, according to Infosys ATP Stats.

Baez came out with all the confidence of a man on a six-match winning streak. The World No. 37 won his first 21 points on serve as Zverev struggled to fire up his return game. The German was also solid behind his delivery, however, with neither player facing a break point in the first set. Despite letting a 6/2 lead slip in the tie-break, Zverev’s extra power proved the difference as he converted his fifth set point with an ace.

The second set looked to be playing out in a similar fashion as Baez continued to give little away behind his delivery, but Zverev belatedly put together a streak of top-quality returns to clinch the only break of the match in the eighth game. He served out without issue to improve his match record in Rome to 14-4.

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Zverev was pleased with the way he recovered to seal the first set tie-break 8/6 after letting four set points slip. “At the end of the day I feel like I did nothing wrong," said the German. "I got a little bit unlucky, made one unforced error with my overhead, but those are not easy shots either. In the end you have to fight until the very last moment, and the first set was [very important] for me.”

Zverev’s third-round opponent in Rome will be Alex de Minaur, after the Australian defeated Tommy Paul for the second time at a Masters 1000 event this year. De Minaur beat the No. 34-ranked American 7-5, 6-4 on Wednesday to back up his straight-sets win over Paul at the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells in March.

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