Zverev survives in five to deny Frenchman

 - Alex Sharp

German sixth seed holds off home hopeful Herbert in a deciding set to reach third round

Alexander Zverev, Roland Garros 2020©Nicolas Gouhier / FFT

Over the net from Alexander Zverev you must feel like the match is always on the turn. 

The 23-year-old has established himself in the latter stages of majors in 2020, earning a semi-final spot at the Australian Open, alongside his heartache in the US Open final.

The journey is rarely smooth.

The world No.7 has competed in 22 best-of-five set matches with an impressive record, celebrating victory 15 times, with a 100 per cent record in six on the grounds of Roland-Garros. 

That sixth win in Paris came on Wednesday night in another turbulent tussle, escaping 2-6, 6-4, 7-6(5), 4-6, 6-4 from home charge Pierre-Hugues Herbert.

“I’ve always said tennis is a very easy sport when you’re playing at your best. When you’re not playing so well it’s very difficult,” admitted the sixth seed.

“Today I was not the better player on court. I was not hitting my forehand better, not hitting my backhand better, not serving better. I was not doing anything better than he did.

“But I found a way, which was the most important. Sometimes I manage to do that quite well, I think. Yeah, I think I lost the most important five-setter in my career so far, which is upsetting but it's OK. At Grand Slams you have to fight through these days.”

Zverev points to the gruelling workout regime we regularly see on social media as a pinpoint for his success going the distance.

“Honestly I think I'm quite fit. It's something that I worked on not in the matches but outside the court, in the gym in the off-season and the training blocks that I did. It was for these moments,” he said.

“You know, you don't need to be lifting 170 kilos on dead lifts or 150 kilos on squats for three-set matches. That's not what you're doing it for. You're doing it for five-set matches, for the big moments like this. I think that the work has been done not on the court but off the court.”

Back at Roland-Garros 2016, Herbert and Zverev collided in the first round, with the German securing a second-round ticket in four sets.

This time the Frenchman’s flamboyant game, boosted by his doubles prowess, reeled the sixth seed into a decider under the lights of Court Philippe-Chatrier.

“I thought I had the match on my racket in the second and third set,” Herbert said. “I don’t know how I lost those sets.”

Somehow Zverev “found a way”.

The fifth set encapsulated the fascinating four-hour contest. Zverev, in just his second clay-court match of 2020, fended off three break points before launching to a 3-0 advantage.

Mini Mexican waves surfaced in the stands as the scattering of home fans cheered for their charge. It worked as Herbert restored parity in several tense exchanges for 3-3 on the scoreboard.

In the very next game a bullet backhand down the line gifted Zverev a chance to serve out the match, but the world No.7 couldn’t quite find the answers. Instead the German had to do it the hard way again, breaking to close out another marathon triumph with a scooping lob.

Zverev keeps mentioning the US Open final, a gut-wrenching defeat to Dominic Thiem from a two-sets advantage. The scars remain, but the world No.7 seems intent on plotting a similar path, regardless of the route.

"I did that at the US Open," he said. "The first few rounds I did not play well and I managed to be two points away from winning the whole tournament. Sometimes that’s just the way it is and I hope I can do something similar here." 

Herbert has now fallen in five sets three times in his past four Roland-Garros campaigns in the second round. In contrast Zverev continues to thrive in five.

The US Open finalist will now prepare to take on qualifier and 2018 semi-finalist Marco Cecchinato.