Seventh seed Alexander Zverev has, unusually, failed to drop a set in the first two rounds of the Australian Open but that streak could end as he takes on giant-killer Fernando Verdasco on Saturday.
Zverev vs Verdasco is live from Melbourne on Saturday 25 January at 7pm local/8am GMT
In 18 main-draw Grand Slam appearances, Zverev has only twice got through the first two rounds without dropping a set, which, considering he’s been seeded for 14 of them and a top-eight seed at nine of them, is not that impressive and goes quite a long way towards explaining why he has established a reputation as a Grand Slam under-performer.
Twice a quarterfinalist at the French Open but still waiting to reach the last eight at any of the others, Zverev remains a really impressive player at regular ATP Tour level; despite a poor season in 2019 as he struggled with issues both on and off the court, he maintained his top-10 ranking throughout and reached the semifinals of the Nitto ATP Finals, although he was unable to defend his title. But his beginning to the 2020 season did not inspire much confidence, as Zverev went 0-3 at the ATP Cup.
There was a kind of symbolic resonance to the fact that Zverev, who has been overtaken by peers Daniil Medvedev and Stefanos Tsitsipas in the rankings, lost all those matches to players in his age bracket (Tsitsipas, Denis Shapovalov and Alex de Minaur), winning just one set. But of more direct concern for Zverev fans was how poorly he served throughout that week, at one point serving 14 double faults against de Minaur.
Zverev attributed it to lack of practice and, when congratulated for not double-faulting once during his second-round victory in Melbourne, suggested he had found his rhythm again, but when one takes into consideration that the German hit an average of 13 double faults in matches at Grand Slams during 2019, I would argue that there’s clearly a mental component to the double-faulting which is quite likely to rear its head again when Zverev faces an opponent at the Australian Open who is able to put him under pressure.
Zverev opened his Australian Open campaign with a straight-sets win over 2018 French Open semifinalist Marco Cecchinato and won three tight sets over world no. 98 Egor Gerasimov to reach the third round, but his next opponent should be a big step up in class.
Fernando Verdasco, currently ranked world no. 51, booked his place in the third round via a straight-sets win over lucky loser Evgeny Donskoy and a four-set victory over 26th seed Nikoloz Basilashvili.
This is his seventh appearance in the third round of the Australian Open, at which he famously made the semifinal in 2009, losing to eventual champion Rafael Nadal in a five-set classic. Briefly a top-10 player, Verdasco has also made two US Open quarterfinals and one at Wimbledon, and is looking to make the second week at a major for the fourth straight season.
Now 36, Verdasco won the most recent of his seven ATP Tour titles in 2016 and made the most recent of his 16 ATP Tour finals in early 2018, but he remains (I think) a dangerous player who loves facing top players, and pushing them all the way if he can’t beat them. Verdasco has a 28-106 record against top-10 players, and has ‘only’ scored six wins over top-10 players at Grand Slam level, but his most recent match against a top-10 player at a major involved him pushing Marin Cilic all the way to five at last year’s Australian Open and coming close to winning.
Verdasco also has a 2-2 record against Zverev, and won their last match at a major, beating the German 6-4, 3-6, 6-4, 6-2 at the French Open in 2017. Zverev won their most recent encounter at the Paris Masters last year 6-1, 6-3, but I still believe Verdasco, with his heavy serve and extraordinarily explosive left-handed forehand, will prove a real test of Zverev’s pretensions to form at this Australian Open.