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By Richard Pagliaro | Tuesday, September 26, 2023


Alexander Zverev battled by Roman Safiullin 6-7(2), 7-6(5), 6-3 in the Chengdu Open final to win his first hard-court title since 2021.

Photo credit: Chengdu Open Facebook

Crisis management is part of Alexander Zverev’s skill set.

Juggling jeopardy two points from defeat in the second-set tiebreaker, Zverev didn’t press the panic button.

The top seed slashed an ace to spark a Chengdu comeback.

A resilient Zverev rallied past Roman Safiullin 6-7(2), 7-6(5), 6-3 in today’s Chengdu Open final to capture his 21st career title.

It’s Zverev’s second title of the season and his first hard-court championship since he won the 2021 ATP Finals.

Zverev zapped 10 aces against one double fault and served his strongest at crunch time. Zverev served 80 percent and won 17 of 20 first-serve points in the last set where he overpowered the first-time finalist.

Successfully juggling jeopardy in the second set, Zverev had his hands full with the crystal trophy and stuff Panda Bear awarded to the champion.

Afterward, the 10th-ranked German credited his former junior rival for a spirited fight.

“Congrats Roman—incredible week and incredible tennis,” Zverev said. “I think you are improving so much. We played each other a lot back in juniors under 14s and under 18s. It's great to see how we grew up together and how far we came.”

Zverev praised the world No. 55 as a potential Top 10 player if he can sustain the high level he showed during today’s two hour, 55-minute battle.

“To be honest if you continue playing like this I think you can be Top 20, Top 10,” Zverev said. “You’re one of the most dangerous players I’ve ever played. I've been playing great tennis this week and all of a sudden I had no idea what to do for a set and a half…I wish you nothing but the best.”

Patience and that percolating serve helped Zverev, who kept calm—aside from one racquet-bouncing release—despite Safiullin saving the first eight break points he faced, including fighting off triple set point in the opener.

Safiullin, who was two points from the title at 5-5 in the second-set tiebreaker, teared up afterward thanking his wife for her love and support. This run to his first ATP final spikes Safiullin’s ranking to a career-high No. 41.

The Olympic gold-medal champion earned his 14th career hard-court title the hard way.

“We've had an extremely difficult time the last year and a half, but we’re coming back,” Zverev said. “We’re in the Top 10 now. We’ve won two titles. We’re coming back.

“I think my dad deserves a lot of credit. Coach number two Mischa deserves a lot of credit…Hopefully we’ll continue coming back and continue rising.”

Showing range and punch, Zverev pulled a full-stretch backhand pass crosscourt then crunched his fourth ace out wide holding at 30 for 4-3.

Late-set pressure provoked stress in Safiullin, who missed a forehand wide and spit up a double fault to face triple set point in the ninth game.

Digging in, the Russian repelled all three, including banging a bold backhand down the line on the second set point then carving out a clever drop shot winner. Safiullin survived the love-40, triple-set point hole, leveling it after 10 games.

That stirring stand sparked a shot-making spree in Safiullin who whipped a forehand drive volley winner for 15-30.

A jittery Zverev overshot the baseline with a forehand down the line to face break point for the first time. Zverev hit a forehand down the line to open the court then skimmed the tape with a backhand down the opposite sideline saving break point. Zverev held for 6-5.

Slapping a double fault to open the 12th game, Safiullin responded with serving precision. Safiullin slammed successive aces forcing the tiebreaker.

Repeatedly driving the ball down both lines, Safiullin thumped a smash opening the breaker with the mini break. Firing a forehand winner down the line, Safiullin extended his lead to 4-2.

The 6’6” Zverev, along with Daniil Medvedev, is one of the best big men movers on Tour. Safiullin shrewdly used Zverev’s speed against him cracking a crosscourt forehand behind the German for a fistful of set points at 6-2.

Rapping a diagonal forehand into the corner, Safiullin sealed the 63-minute opener with a tremendous tiebreaker. Crunching forehands helped Safiullin save three set points and control the breaker.

Applying pressure to start the second set, Zverev earned three more break points. Safiullin swiped away all three—by then he saved all seven break points he faced—holding to start set two.

While Safiullin’s forehand was rock-solid on big points, fissures were showing in Zverev’s forehand.

The top seed sailed a rally forehand ceding the first break of the day and a 2-0 lead to the man in the plain white t-shirt.

An ornery Zverev erupted in frustration bouncing his Head racquet off the court a couple of times then casting derisive glances at his box.

That outburst calmed Zverev a bit, he defended with vigor and earned break point. Safiullin saved an eighth break point by bolting a backhand down the line and drawing another forehand error.

The Zverev forehand came to life: he fired a forehand pass down the line and a flat forehand winner for a ninth break point. This time, Safiullin sailed a forehand and Zverev screamed, snatching his first break for 1-2.

Zverev dodged a 15-30 test on serve when Safiullin netted a mid-court forehand. An ace and backhand winner helped the top seed cap a challenging sixth game holding for 3-all.

Showing fast hands, Zverev reflect a backhand volley winner to force the second-set tiebreaker.

The Olympic gold medal champion spun a backhand winner down the line and drew a framed forehand error for a 4-2 edge.

A scrambling Safiullin flicked back a stretched forehand, read a Zverev smash and put a pass at the German’s feet provoking netted volley for 5-5.

Responding to that debacle, Zverev slammed his eighth ace off the line for set point. A tight Safiullin double-faulted off the tape ending a dramatic 72-minute second set.

Zverev pumped a fist toward his box forcing a final set after two hours, 15 minutes.

The final set turned on a surprisingly sloppy game.

Perhaps the physicality of the final caught up to him as Safiullin yanked successive wild forehand errors giving the break and a 3-1 lead to Zverev.

The top seed tore through nine consecutive points on serve to close a two hour 55-minute triumph and lock down his 21st career title.


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