Basilashvili Saves 2 M.P., Stuns Zverev In Hamburg
Reigning Nitto ATP Finals champion Alexander Zverev was able to battle from the brink of defeat in his quarter-final on Friday against Filip Krajinovic. But the German was on the opposite end of a Harry Houdini act on Saturday against defending champion Nikoloz Basilashvili.
The Georgian saved two match points at 3-5 in the third set en route to a 6-4, 4-6, 7-6(5) victory against the second seed. Basilashvili, who captured his first ATP Tour title in Hamburg last year as a qualifier ranked World No. 81, is now just one victory from retaining his trophy at the ATP 500 tournament.
"I don’t think I was calm. I was really emotional inside. Maybe I didn’t show that much," Basilashvili said. "I was serving really, really bad in the third set, so that got me very emotional and I got very tight also in the third set. But in general, how I managed to come back from 2/5 in the tie-break was something that I give credit to myself. It doesn’t happen with my tennis that often, so I’m really happy. "
He needed every sliver of mental fortitude he could find in what was a roller coaster battle against the World No. 5. Basilashvili led by a break early in both the second and third sets, but relinquished those leads on both occasions as Zverev locked down defensively, allowing the World No. 16 to make more unforced errors.
Just as it appeared Zverev would complete his comeback when he had a 5-3 lead in the third set, Basilashvili found some of his best tennis. He saved two match points — first with an inside-out forehand winner and then when he sprinted to the net to swat away a forehand volley — on his own serve before breaking back, ultimately leading to a final-set tie-break.
Despite trailing 2/5 in the tie-break, Basilashvili once again rose to the occasion, going for his shots and landing. On his first match point, the Georgian fired an inside-in forehand that forced Zverev to hit a forehand slice into the net, completing his triumph after three hours and eight minutes.
"In the tie-break, I was really concentrated on the ball and just how to play tennis, how just to play the game," Basilashvili said. "But inside I think Sascha was also very tight and emotional, and me also because it is one or two points that decide the match."
Throughout nearly the entire match, the rallies were on Basilashvili’s racquet, as the Georgian took his typical big cuts at the ball to push Zverev back. That aggression paid dividends as he took the lead. But when he broke early in the second and third sets, unforced errors trickled into his game, allowing Zverev to buckle down defensively and put more pressure on the Georgian.
Even after the disappointment of losing the second set, Basilashvili remained calm and broke for a 3-1 lead in the decider after crushing a forehand winner. But Zverev raised his level to break back with a laser-like backhand pass down the line. He broke in Basilashvili’s next service game, too, that time hitting a backhand winner down the line on a second-serve return.
But the German was unable to complete the victory to advance to his first Hamburg final. Instead, Basilashvili will face Russian Andrey Rublev in the championship match. He owns a 1-0 FedEx ATP Head2Head series lead against Rublev, defeating the 21-year-old this year in Doha in straight sets.
"My mind was calm pretty much," Zverev said. "I came back yesterday so I knew I could do it again today, and I was close to it... I guess it was a nice atmosphere and it was good for the crowd, but now he is in the final and I lost. So it’s not the nicest feeling in the world."
Did You Know?
Basilashvili saved 16 of the 20 break points he faced, while converting four of the eight opportunities he had to break Zverev's serve.