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By Richard Pagliaro | @Tennis_Now | Wednesday, January 24, 2024


Alexander Zverev broke serve seven times stunning Carlos Alcaraz 6-1, 6-3, 6-7(2), 6-4 to reach the Australian Open semifinals for the second time.

Photo credit: Cameron Spencer/Getty

Revival acts rarely thrive against major demolition artists.

Riding a wrecking ball serve and calm competitive spirit, Alexander Zverev razed Carlos Alcaraz 6-1, 6-3, 6-7(2), 6-4 in a stirring Australian Open upset to reach his seventh Grand Slam semifinal.

More: Richard Evans Q&A

Blown out by an imposing Zverev for two sets, Alcaraz delivered an electrifying surge of five straight winners to take the third-set tiebreaker and force a fourth set.

The Spaniard seemingly had all the momentum, but Zverev broke to open the fourth set, staged a superb stand to hold for 4-all and broke Alcaraz for 5-4 before serving out one of the most satisfying Grand Slam victories of his career.

There was fire, fragility and fierce finishing power from Zverev. The marathon man who has won two fifth-set tiebreakers in this tournament, has overcome all obstacles for his first AO semifinal since 2020.

The Olympic gold-medal champion scored his first career Top 5 win at a Grand Slam defeating Alcaraz for the fifth time in eight meetings.

“I’m playing one of the best players in the world, especially over the last two years, he’s been No. 1 or No. 2 constantly, he’s won two Grand Slams,” Zverev told Hall of Famer Jim Courier in his on-court interview. “When you’re up 6-1, 6-3, 5-2 you start thinking. We're all human.

“It's a great honor to play against guys like him. When you’re so close to winning your brain starts going and it’s not always helpful. But I’m happy I got it in the end. I think I fought back quite well in the fourth set, didn’t let go, and I’m very happy I finished the match.”

Zverev served 85 percent, smacking seven aces against one double fault and broke Alcaraz seven times.

The 26-year-old Zverev improved to 9-1 on the season advancing to a semifinal showdown vs. two-time AO finalist Daniil Medvedev.

The third-seeded Medvedev edged Hubert Hurkacz 7-6(4), 2-6, 6-3, 5-7, 6-4 in a compelling four-hour quarterfinal. Medvedev hit 11 aces against 10 double faults and survived 61 winners from the ninth-seeded Pole.

It is Medvedev’s eighth career major semifinal, including his third final four appearance in the last four years at Melbourne Park.

“[Medvedev has] been kicking my ass a lot over the last year or so, but maybe this will be it,” said Zverev, who was 0-10 vs. Top 5-ranked opponents at majors before tonight’s triumph. “Maybe this will be the place. I’m counting on all of you guys’ support. I love playing in Australia.”

Zverev pulled the plug on Alcaraz’s comeback bid in an early-morning finish tonight.

The 20-year-old Spanish superstar was playing to become the fifth man in the Open Era to reach five major semifinals before celebrating his 21st birthday.

Fueled by a near-flawless serving performance, an oppressive Zverev snuffed out virtually any safe space for Alcaraz for two sets. Alcaraz, who arrived down under without coach Juan Carlos Ferrero (recovering from knee surgery), simply did not tactically adjust to a commanding Zverev for two sets.

By the time Alcaraz became Alcaraz it was too late to close ground on Zverev.

"Let's say I'm glad to end in the third set playing great tennis. Then the beginning of the fourth set, I couldn't stay at this level," Alcaraz told the media in Melbourne. "It was a pity. But anyways, I found, you know, the way to break him, his serves again, and stay on the match. But, you know, I think I had chances, you know, in the 4-3 in the fourth set. I didn't take it.

"I think I played good tennis in the fourth set. Obviously not to my best level, but, you know, it was a good one. Didn't make my chances. You know, a lot of up-and-downs with my level, with my tennis, with the serves.

"I didn't find a good serve. He was starting to or he was returning very well. So it was tough to deal with the pressure that he puts me in every point with my serve."

Three big surprises from this match: Despite spending five hours longer on court than Alcaraz en route to this quarterfinal, Zverev exuded more energy at the start and the world No. 6 repeatedly beat the second-seeded Spaniard in forehand-to-forehand exchanges, which was a stunner given Alcaraz’s explosiveness. Alcaraz’s eye-popping speed around the court is one of his biggest weapons, but he looked flat-footed at times and reactive rather than proactive for stretches.

Tearing through 12 of the first 14 points, a zoning Zverev raced out to a 3-0 lead.

An out of sorts Alcaraz could not find the court at times. Alcaraz slapped a forehand into net, surrendering serve again to fall behind 1-5.

In cruise control, Zverev zapped an ace to wrap a 29-minute first-set thrashing.

Resetting, Alcaraz began to find his range and rhythm early in the second set. A fine backhand volley, drop shot and ace helped the Spanish superstar stamp a love hold for 3-2 second-set advantage.

Facing double break point at 2-3, Zverev caught a break when Alcaraz netted a mid-court backhand approach. That reprieve helped the German hold to level after six games.

Under duress in the following game, Alcaraz could not pass the German in an electric net exchange as Zverev earned a break point.

Continuing to fire forehands with imposing intent, Zverev drew a netted reply breaking for 4-3.

The Olympic gold-medal champion was attacking with elegant ease, beating Alcaraz from all areas of the court. Zverev won 15 of 16 net points when he stamped a strong hold for 5-3.

Struggling to dent the German’s polished baseline game, Alcaraz dragged a drop shot attempted wide gift-wrapping the break to end the second set.

A focused Zverev barely showed any celebratory signs striding to his court-side seat with a two-set lead after a mere 71 minutes.

Through two sets, a dominant Zverev served 90 percent, connecting on 35 of 39 first serves and permitted just six points on first serves in that span.

A major problem for Alcaraz: He wasn’t making much of any impact on the Zverev serve.

An even bigger issue for the Wimbledon winner: He was 0-7 lifetime when facing a two-set deficit.

The 6’6” German was not only mauling Alcaraz, he completely muted the crowd, steamrolling to a two-set lead. Zverev owned a 52-1 record when seizing the first two sets in a Grand Slam with his lone loss coming when he squandered a two-set lead to Dominic Thiem in the 2020 US Open final.

Rather than trying to work the points and find a rhythm through rallying, Alcaraz repeatedly tried to load up and end points with one big bang.

The Wimbledon winner hit himself into a deep deficit. Going for a massive second serve, Alcaraz double faulted to face a third break point in the fourth game. When Alcaraz bumped a backhand long, Zverev converted his fifth break point for a 3-1 third-set lead.

Alcaraz’s team looked dazed in the support box as Zverev navigated a deuce hold extending to a commanding two set, 4-1 advantage.

Blistering a backhand winner down the line brought Zverev to 5-2 after just an hour, 43 minutes of play.

Points away from absorbing the most lopsided loss of his Grand Slam career, Alcaraz was in no mood for a quick exit.

Serving for the semifinals, Zverev was down love-30 when he dropped a couple of serve bombs to level. Unable to handle a backhand volley, the German faced break point in the ninth game.

Attacking behind a return down the line, Alcaraz nudged a volley winner for his first break one hour, 52 minutes into a lopsided match.

That break fired up Alcaraz and Rod Laver Arena fans.

Though Zverev was twice two points from the semifinals—serving at 5-3, 30-all and again on Alcaraz’s serve at 5-4, 30-15—but Alcaraz saw the German tighten slightly and turned it up mightily.

In the tiebreaker, it was as if the Wimbledon winner flipped a switch: Alcaraz became Alcaraz.

In a brilliant barrage of blistering forehands, Alcaraz torched five winners in a row transforming a 1-2 deficit into a 6-2 lead.

That astounding swarm of shotmaking saw Alcaraz rocket a running forehand pass down the line for four set points.

Exhorting the crowd, a smiling Alcaraz banged a backhand winner down the line battling back from the brink to force a fourth set after two hours, 12 minutes.

Afterward, Alcaraz said if not for fans firing him up, he likely would have lost in straight sets.

"I think it was a fourth set because of the crowd, and the way that they bring energy to me, it was crazy. I was down, totally down, and they didn't stop to supporting me, so it was crazy," Alcaraz said. "So I want to thank them, you know, to stay there, believing in me, supporting me in every ball, in every point.

"So probably the comeback, you know, in the third set, it was thanks to them. Without them probably would lost in three sets."

Despite being up two sets to one, the German trudged to his court-side seat like a battered boxer in dire need of a rest and some smelling salts.

Instead, Zverev took a medical timeout for apparent treatment of a toe issue.

That break helped steady Zverev.

Gold chains around his neck rattling, Zverev ran down a dropper then won a nose-to-nose net exchange for double break point to start the fourth.

The second seeded Spaniard scattered a forehand wide ceding the break and a 1-0 lead to Zverev.

Dragging the sixth seed forward with a dropper, Alcaraz spun a pass down the line, Zverev covered it but netted a forehand volley to put the set back on serve.

In a fantastic and frenetic eighth game, Zverev squandered a 40-love lead then made a stirring stand. Both men pulled off tremendous gets to extend a 22-shot rally. Zverev withstood the pressure flicking a running forehand pass to hold for 4-4 then waving his arms to exhort appreciative fans.

Two jittery errors from Alcaraz gave Zverev double break point in the ninth game.

The two-time Grand Slam champion attacked, but Zverev slid a pass down the line earning a netted volley. That shot gave Zverev the break and a 5-4 lead.

One more plot twist came with Zverev serving for the semifinal at 30-all. Alcaraz framed a forehand return then threw up two desperate lobs to prolong the point only to sail his easiest shot of the rally handing Zverev match point.

Throwing down the exclamation point serve winner, Zverev closed a gritty victory.

Zverev has been under the spotlight throughout this Australian summer season—he played dynamic tennis leading Germany to the United Cup championship, has faced intense scrutiny for assault allegations from the mother of his child and will face a trial on those charges in Berlin in May—yet continues to make major strides in his comeback.

In June of 2022, Zverev underwent surgery to repair three torn lateral ligaments in his right ankle after suffering a painful crash to the court that curtailed his career.

Fans will recall Zverev falling to Court Philippe Chatrier court wailing in agony after rolling his right ankle at the end of the second set of his 2022 Roland Garros semifinal vs. Rafael Nadal. Zverev was forced to retire from the match and later returned to court on crutches to complete the customary post-match handshake with Nadal and the chair umpire.

More than two years after that painful fall, Zverev is rising again.

“It was a very difficult moment in my career and my life generally even if I had lost that match against Rafa at the French Open, it’s Rafa obviously he’s won it 14 billion times, having in the the back of my mind I needed to win one match in the next three months to become world No.1,” Zverev said. “That was the most painful part for me.

"I had to start over. I had to start from zero and I’m happy to be back in major semifinals and hopefully playing for titles again.”


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