Zverev doing it his own way

 - Danielle Rossingh

German No.6 seed shows new resilience in second-round fightback.

Alexander Zverev, Second Round, Roland Garros 2021© Julien Crosnier/FFT

If Alexander Zverev is going to win his first Grand Slam title at Roland-Garros this year, he will do it his way.

Whether that means coming back from two sets down, as he did in his first-round win over fellow German Oscar Otte, or battling past Russian qualifier Roman Safiullin in three tight sets as he did on Wednesday, he’ll take it.

“I'm happy to be through in three sets,” Zverev said after moving to the second round with a 7-6(4), 6-4, 7-6(1) victory against a player he knows well from his junior days.

“I'm happy not to have played another five-setter. I think it's going to be important for me during the course of this tournament. I'm looking forward to the next match.”

In previous years at Roland-Garros, the sixth-ranked Zverev, who faces Serbia’s Laslo Djere in the third round, has battled through difficult early matches, only to run out of steam. In 2018, he won three straight five-set matches to reach the quarter-finals, where he was overwhelmed by eventual finalist Dominic Thiem.

A year later, he won two five-setters but had nothing left against Novak Djokovic in the quarters. Last October, Zverev went the distance against Frenchman Pierre-Hugues Herbert in round two, only to lose to Italian rising star Jannik Sinner in the last 16.

The good news is that Zverev is showing the kind of resilience required to win seven matches in two weeks, a trait he is proud of.

“Look, it would be nice not to have to do it every single time, but if I have to do it, it's nice to know that I can,” he said.

“Obviously I don't do it on purpose. I don't go into the match and say, 'OK, my tactic is I'm going to be a break down, I'm going to fight back and come back'. That's not how it works. I'm a break down most of the time because I played unfocused games or the opponent played well.

“Today, especially last two sets, they could have gone both ways, especially the third. The second I thought I was in control more.”

Safiullin, ranked 182, won the junior title at the Australian Open the year after Zverev took it, but injuries have prevented the Russian from breaking through at the top level of the Tour.

On Wednesday, though, he showed plenty of fight and talent, leading by a break in the second and third sets before Zverev fought back to clinch victory.

“The first week (of a Grand Slam) you play against guys, some of them play first, second, third time of a Grand Slam, they're very motivated,” Zverev said.

“They're excited to play on the big courts, like I thought today. I think he played a fantastic match,” Zverev said. “I'm happy to be through in three sets. The match definitely wasn't easy.”

Zverev hit 15 aces but also 10 double faults, a part of his game he has struggled with, especially in the US Open final last September, when he let slip a two-set lead to lose to Austria’s Thiem.

“I worked a lot of long hours with it,” he said. “I worked a lot on that part of the game. I think everybody knows that. I think with a lot of hard work it improves. It's just a constant improvement.”