Third Time Lucky: Zverev Overcomes Second-Round Hurdle In New York
After falling in the second round on his past two appearances at the US Open, Alexander Zverev reached the third round in New York for the first time, beating lucky loser Nicolas Mahut 6-4, 6-4, 6-2 on Thursday.
"This was always the Grand Slam that I didn't play my best ever. Not even that I lost, but just game-wise. Game-wise, I never felt comfortable here. Finally I do," said Zverev. "I feel like I'm playing well. I feel like today, [Mahut] was a tough opponent. He had a few matches here already."
The World No. 4 needed one hour and 48 minutes to clinch his 45th tour-level win of the season, hitting 43 winners and converting each of his five break chances to advance. Zverev ties Mahut at 1-1 in their FedEx ATP Head2Head series, having lost their only previous encounter at the 2017 Open 13 Provence. The Mutua Madrid Open champion leads the ATP World Tour in match wins this season (45-13).
The nine-time tour-level titlist, competing under new coach Ivan Lendl for the first time this week, will meet countryman Philipp Kohlschreiber in the third round. Kohlscheiber, who is tied with Zverev at 2-2 in their FedEx ATP Head2Head series, recovered from a set down for the first time at a Grand Slam since defeating Zverev at the 2015 US Open to beat Matthew Ebden 6-7(1), 6-3, 6-2, 6-0.
"We played here [in the] first round three years ago. It was a five-set match. Obviously, I was much younger, and he was better than me back then," said Zverev. "He's a great guy. He's a great opponent. Obviously we played the final this year in Munich, as well. I know him quite well. He knows me... It's going to be interesting in a few days' time."
After a tricky opening service game, Zverev excelled behind his delivery to take a one-set lead. The German dropped only two points in his following four service games, wrapping up the set with his fourth ace of the match.
The German quickly solidified his advantage in the opening game of the second set, breaking Mahut to 15 as the Frenchman misfired on his backhand wing. Return points were few and far between for the Frenchman, until Zverev offered up three break-point chances in the eighth game. Two double faults contributed to Zverev's problems, before Mahut broke with flair in a tight forecourt exchange.
Zverev wasted no time regaining his lead however, breaking to love in the next game with consistent aggression before comfortably serving out the set after 72 minutes. From that point, Zverev charged to the finish line.
The German earned two further service breaks in the third set, with moments of exquisite touch found between crushed groundstroke winners, before landing back-to-back aces to finally move past the second-round stage.
"I had to focus from first moment to last and play my game," said Zverev. "I'm happy to be through. Obviously, this is not me being satisfied. Of course I'm happy to be through, but I'm already thinking about my next match."
Lucky loser Mahut was aiming to reach the third round in New York for the third consecutive year. The Frenchman, who lost to Tommy Robredo in qualifying, defeated Next Gen ATP Finals contender Corentin Moutet to record his eighth US Open match win on Tuesday.
In other action, Diego Schwartzman and Kei Nishikori set a third FedEx ATP Head2Head meeting, after both advanced to the third round. In their two previous encounters, on the clay of Buenos Aires and Madrid in 2017, Nishikori stormed back from a set down to prevail.
On Thursday, Schwartzman overcame 21-year-old Jaume Munar 6-2, 6-0, 5-7, 6-2. One year removed from a breakthrough quarter-final run in New York, the Argentine is now one to watch at the hard-court Grand Slam. The 13th seed notched his 29th match win of the season.
Later in the day, Kei Nishikori advanced on Louis Armstrong Stadium after Gael Monfils retired due to a wrist injury. The Japanese star grabbed the first set 6-2 and Monfils answered right back with an early break in the second. But, bidding to draw level at a set apiece, the Frenchman jammed his wrist on a forehand volley. He would stop play a few games later.
"I thought I started really well, played very aggressive," said Nishikori. "I thought I was dominating from the baseline. Everything worked well. In the second, he started pretty good. Unfortunately it finished for him. We always battle, play great matches all the time. It's always fun to play against him. It's sad to finish like that. But so happy to go through."
Did You Know?
Earlier this year, Zverev won three consecutive five-set matches at Roland Garros to reach his first Grand Slam quarter-final and become the youngest quarter-finalist in Paris since Juan Martin del Potro in 2009.