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By Richard Pagliaro | @Tennis_Now | Friday, January 26, 2024

Happy Slam rise turned excruciating end for Alexander Zverev.

Olympic gold-medal champion Zverev came agonizingly close to a maiden Australian Open final only to blow a two-set lead and bow to rival Daniil Medvedev 5-7, 3-6, 7-6(4), 7-6(5), 6-3 in a gut-wrenching four hour, 18-minute loss.

More: Richard Evans Q&A

Empowered by his upset of No. 2 Carlos Alcaraz in the quarterfinals, his first career Top 5 win in a Slam, Zverev raced out to a two-set lead tonight. But the toll of winning a couple of fifth-set tiebreaker, four-hour battles—Zverev edged qualifier Lukas Klein in a fifth-set breaker in round two then out-dueled 19th-seeded Briton Cameron Norrie in a fifth-set tiebreaker in the fourth round—left the German depleted over the final two sets tonight.

In the aftermath of his painful parting, Zverev said he lost the match because of illness and fatigue and not because of his tennis.

"Kind of I lost it because of a physical state, not because of tennis," said Zverev, who was playing to join Boris Becker and Rainer Schuettler as the third German man to reach the AO singles final. "That is, for me, disappointing. That's probably the first time or one of the first times in my career that that has happened.

"But the other thing is I can be also proud of myself because I did everything I could. I did all the work in the offseason, did all the work here in Australia. I was focused, I was concentrated, but things happened out of my control, in a way. It's not my last chance hopefully."

The 26-year-old Zverev dropped to 21-11 in five-set matches, while Medvedev improved to 7-9 in career five-setters.

Both men know the devastation of squandering two-set leads in Grand Slam showdowns. Zverev fell to 53-2 when winning the first two sets of a major match.

Unleashing the warrior within, Rafael Nadal delivered the comeback of his career battling by Daniil Medvedev 2-6, 6-7(5), 6-4, 6-4, 7-5 to capture a men’s record 21st Grand Slam title in an epic and astounding 2022 Australian Open final.

Three-time AO finalist Medvedev said he's much more mentally tough player these days.

"Mentally 100%, I'm stronger than I was before this tournament because now I know that I'm capable of some things maybe I thought I'm not," Medvedev said. "Because before I didn't do anything like this to get to the final.

"So mentally I'm stronger than before, and I'm happy about it. Probably honestly, it's better to be in the final winning three-set, four-set matches. That's the better way physically. But it is what it is, and I'm proud and looking forward to the final to give my 100% again."

Two of the toughest defeats of Zverev's career have come after he let two-set leads slip away.

Dominic Thiem rallied past Zverev 2-6, 4-6, 6-4, 6-3, 7-6(6) in a gripping, grueling 2020 US Open final to capture his first career Grand Slam championship.

Zverev has been under the scrutiny spotlight this month with the news he will face a trial in Berlin in May to answer assault allegations from his ex-girlfriend and mother of his child.

Asked today if the assault allegations and controversy hampered his concentration, Zverev, who has repeatedly denied all abuse and assault allegations made by multiple ex-girlfriends, said it hasn't impacted his play.

"No, because I have said it before: Anyone who has a semi-decent IQ level understands what's going on," Zverev said. "I hope that most of you guys do. I'm fine with it."

Photo credit: Shi Tang/Getty