Three to see: Serena's big test
Alexander Zverev keeps calm after five-set struggle - and pays thanks to Roger Federer.
For a man whose Grand Slam hoodoo had for a while looked poised to strike again before he fought back from two sets to one down to emerge triumphant, Alexander Zverev sounded mightily chilled about what everyone else was calling a scare in his second-round clash against Dusan Lajovic.
And if the 21-year-old German seemed so relaxed and positive about his sub-par performance in the 2-6 7-5 4-6 6-1 6-2 win over the Serb, it may have been just a little to do with a few words of advice from the great Roger Federer.
It had been a curious afternoon on the ‘Bull Ring’ No.1 Court as Zverev played the part of the bull for more than a couple of hours, being given a bit of a runaround by the in-form Lajovic, before belatedly turning into the matador that the No.2 seed is supposed to be in these early skirmishes.
Then, for a man who sounds increasingly, if good-naturedly, weary of having it pointed out that his Grand Slam record is an anomaly for such a gifted performer, he sounded wonderfully upbeat afterwards about both his progress - and his chances for the rest of the tournament.
“I'm very happy to be here with a five-set win over somebody who has beaten great opponents during the clay-court season," Zverev said. "As I said, obviously it was not my best, I know that. There are still a few things I need to work on. Actually in the fourth and fifth set I really felt good out there even though I was a little bit tired.”
While reporters asked in concerned tones about how he had approached his comeback as he sat in his chair one set away from losing once again in an early round of a Grand Slam, he shrugged: “I mean, you guys make it sound like we think about it, really. We don't. We just try to play and win each point, each game.
“Being two sets to one down is like being a set-all in a three-set match. We're not going to overthink it ‘Oh, I'm two sets to one down. What am I going to do? How am I going to play the next point?’ We try to play our best, we try to maybe change a few tactics and see how we can win the next point and the next game.”
And that’s exactly what he did. Calm and collected, he began to overpower the world No.60 and sailed into a third-round meeting with Bosnia’s 26th seed Damir Dzumhur. Famously, ‘Sascha’ has not yet beaten a top-50 player in a Slam, nor breached the fourth round, but now he has his chance.
And if he sounded the model of serenity, was it partly down to some comforting words that the champion Federer had offered him after his third-round exit at the Australian Open?
“He said some encouraging things,” revealed Zverev. “He told me a story about how he never made it past quarters until he was, what, 23 years old or something like that. So I still have a little bit of time.
“Hearing that from the greatest player of all-time is comforting, because you always think ‘Oh, if I'm not going to win this one, I'm never going to win one’ and he's the greatest player of all time.
“Just hearing that, just knowing that it's all okay, it's not the end of the world. Obviously that was a long time ago and I played great tennis since then. Maybe I have to give credit to him.”
Such was Zverev’s lightness of mood after the victory, he even enjoyed a delightful bit of banter in his post-match press conference with an English radio reporter, who had such a wonderfully broad Yorkshire tones that the German just swooned: “If I ever make a tournament there, I’m coming just because of that accent. Love it. I didn't understand a word you're saying, but it's not important!”
Further pressed by the same reporter about whether he now felt Roland-Garros was now going to be a turning point in his career, Zverev added with a smile: “Sure. Why not? Just because you said it so nicely, I'm going to believe that now!
“Why? Look, everybody tries to make a bigger story out of it than it is. I have had great success on the ATP Tour, won three Masters, made two other finals this year. I'm not worried. I know if I'm doing the right things and if I do the right work I'll win those long matches, and the success will come itself.
“I'm trying to do everything that I can to really enjoy the moments and enjoy playing on big courts, enjoy playing those great fights like I had today. As long as you're enjoying your thing, I think the success will come itself.”