Zverev keeps five-set record intact

 - Dan Imhoff

For second straight year, Zverev goes the distance to hold off Lajovic in Paris.

Alexander Zverev© Pauline Ballet / FFT

Alexander Zverev might want to rethink his claim of his favourite opponent being someone he’s never lost to, with Dusan Lajovic now surely excluded.

For the second straight year at Roland-Garros, Lajovic gave the German all sorts of grief over five sets.

And for the second straight year, Zverev prevailed.

The 6-4, 6-2, 4-6, 1-6, 6-2 third-round result sent the No.5 seed into the second week at a Grand Slam for just the fourth time.

It could prove especially telling for the 22-year-old’s confidence.

Before a title run in Geneva on the eve of Roland-Garros, his season had reaped just one run beyond the quarter-finals in 10 events.

“Obviously he's been somebody that has been playing very well; made finals of Monte-Carlo,” Zverev said. “One of the best clay-court players that we had this season. It's nice to get the win.”

This was a reversal of the pair’s second-round clash from last year, when Zverev surged back from two sets down.

Serving at 2-4 on a sunny Court Simone-Mathieu outing, he dinked an easy volley into the net to stare down a break point, prompting him to launch a ball towards the Seine.

He earned a code violation warning for his efforts, but Lajovic was unable to capitalise as Zverev reeled off 10 of the next 12 games to take a two-set lead.

Alexander Zverev - Roland-Garros 2019 - 3e tour©Corinne Dubreuil / FFT

Coasting to arguably his most impressive win of the season, however, the cracks began to creep in, with the fifth seed’s forehand and serve deserting him.

Those fissures only widened after Lajovic landed the third set, with shanked forehands and double faults mounting as the German meekly surrendered the fourth.

Zverev had never before lost a five-set match at Roland-Garros in four prior encounters and lifted when it mattered to ensure his clean record remained in tact.

After his opening-round escape against Australia’s John Millman, the No.5 seed was pressed on his favourite opponent. “I don’t know … who have I never lost to?” he quipped.

That certainly won’t include his next opponent, the ninth seed, Fabio Fognini, who beat him en route to the biggest title of his career in Monte-Carlo in April.

The Italian took down Roberto Bautista Agut 7-6(5), 6-4, 4-6, 6-1 earlier on Saturday.

“Revenge, no. I have beaten him before,” Zverev said. “I have beaten him in Rome, I have beaten him other tournaments.

“He’s also been one of the best clay-court players this season, winning his first Masters, so obviously playing great tennis. Beating Rafa there, as well, and I think along the way a lot of good players, so it's going to be a difficult match.”

“I'm ready for it. I think I'm playing much better than I have the last few months.”

Next Gen emerging

Having carried much of the weight of expectation for his age-group for several years now, Zverev was relieved a younger bolter with a bullet next to his name was sharing some of the limelight.

“I think I have been talked about less,” he said. “People talk about obviously Rafa, Novak, and all those guys, but Tsitsipas, much, much more, which is, for me, very nice.”

Coach Ivan Lendl had opted to skip Paris and planned to rejoin his charge in time for the grass-court swing,

Zverev was unperturbed – even at 22, this was already his 16th major. Although there was one small matter Lendl could help with from afar.

“Somebody needs to tell me I don't necessarily need to play five sets every time I step on the court,” he grinned. “Maybe that will be Ivan's job over the next few days.”