Lucky 13: Zverev Extends Streak, Reaches Rome Final
When Alexander Zverev arrived at the Foro Italico last year, the German had never reached the semi-finals of an ATP World Tour Masters 1000 event. In fact, at World No. 17, he held just a 17-13 record at the elite level.
But the 2017 Internazionali BNL d’Italia, at which Zverev lifted his maiden Masters 1000 trophy, proved to be just the beginning. One year on, the 21-year-old defeated Marin Cilic on Saturday evening 7-6(13), 7-5 in the Rome semi-finals to win his 13th match in a row, as he attempts to win back-to-back-to-back titles after triumphing in Munich and Madrid.
"It was very tough. It's always tough playing Marin. He's one of the best players on Tour right now," Zverev said. "He knows what it takes to win the big matches in the big moments so I had to play my best to get the win today."
Zverev advances to his fifth championship match on the prestigious stage over that span. Rafael Nadal, his opponent on Sunday, and Roger Federer are tied for second with three final appearances each in the past 52 weeks. And perhaps more impressively, regardless of Zverev's result against seven-time champion Nadal, he will climb past Federer into the lead in the ATP Race To London on Monday as he attempts to qualify for the season finale for the second consecutive year.
"There's not much you need to say about him [Rafa]. He's won so many tournaments on this surface, won the French Open 10 times, so I'm definitely not the favourite in this matchup," admitted Zverev ahead of his clash against Nadal. "But hopefully I'll be ready for it. I'll do everything I can to recover and we'll see tomorrow how it goes."
The 21-year-old is also the first player on the ATP World Tour to reach 30 wins in 2018 despite an 8-4 start in which he failed to reach a final in his first four tournaments of the season. Since then, the Monte-Carlo resident has reached the final at four of his five events, with three of those coming at the Masters 1000 level. The only city in which he did not reach the championship match was in Monte-Carlo, where he lost against Kei Nishikori in the semi-finals.
The key to his victory on Saturday was the epic first-set tie-beak that lasted well longer than 20 minutes. Zverev cruised on serve throughout the set, asserting himself from the first strike. But after sprinting to a commanding 4/0 lead in the tie-break, a tinge of apprehension appeared in his game, and Cilic, another tall, talented ball-striker, took full advantage by stepping into his own shots.
The Croatian would earn five set points, but much like what happened to the German when he gained control, Cilic became apprehensive, making an error on his steadier backhand side on each of those chances. Zverev then converted on his fourth set point.
And while he relinquished an immediate break in the second set, Zverev raised his level to break back. And as the set came to a close, he was the one who seized the moment to reach the Rome final for the second straight year.
Despite the loss, it was a strong effort by Cilic in the Italian capital. This was the World No. 5's first appearance in a Masters 1000 clay-court semi-final, and he had only won two of five ATP World Tour matches on the surface before arriving in Rome.
Did You Know?
Alexander Zverev’s first-set tie-break victory against Marin Cilic is tied for the longest of the season. The two other 15/13 tie-breaks this year came in the Indian Wells first round when Maximilian Marterer beat Ivo Karlovic 6-7(13) 7-6(4) 6-3 and in the Sao Paulo quarter-finals when Pablo Cuevas ousted Leonardo Mayer 6-2 6-7(13) 7-6(5).