Zverev Tops Tsitsipas in Semifinal at Citi Open

By Jane Voigt

August 4, 2018, Washington D.C. — Alexander Zverev is 21. He’s the number one seed here at Citi Open this week. His opponent, in the first semifinal of the day on Saturday, was Stefanos Tsitsipas. He’s 19. In a time of aging tennis players who keep producing prodigious results — Roger Federer will be 37 next week — the question lingers: When will the kids on the block rise up? Answer: this week in the nation’s capital.

Zv

The number-one seed, Alexander Zverev, reached his second consecutive Citi Open final on Saturday, defeating Stefanos Tsitsipas in straight sets. Photo credit Leslie Billman tennisclix.com.

Zverev and Tsitsipas were two of four semifinalists that are 21 or younger. Andrey Rublev and Alex De Minaur are the others, Rublev being 20 and De Minaur 19. It’s the first time since 1995 at the tour level that all four semifinalists are 21 and younger. 

“I guess I’m the only one who can buy a drink in the bunch,” Zverev said with a smile when asked about the #NextGen atmosphere. 

With their ages so close it’s odd that Zverev and Tsitsipas had never matched up, not in juniors or on tour although they’ve known each since they were 12 and played the same tournaments in Europe. But as Zverev’s career took off, he played up … against juniors older than him, which means he bypassed Tsitsipas until today. 

Tsitsi

Stefanos Tsitsipas met fellow next-generation compatriot, Alexander Zverev, for the first time in the careers Saturday at Citi Open.
Photo credit Leslie Billman tennisclix.com. 

The contrast during the match was sharp, although their ages were not. Zverev, the defending champion, had already secured the support of the people. D.C. crowds love him. He’s charismatic, six-feet-six with blue eyes like washed glass, and sits at number three in the world, a pinnacle less than one-percent of players ever approach. He loves the attention, too. “I mean who doesn’t like attention,” he said earlier in the week. All that attention, though, would be directed toward someone else if Zverev's results hadn’t brought on the deluge. And he didn’t disappoint Saturday.

Zverev beat the Greek native, 6-2, 6-4, to advance to Sunday’s final. 

It was the German’s 40th match win of the season, which leads the ATP tour. Tomorrow’s final will be his fifth of the season. He’ll try to win his third title. And, finally, he’s trying to become the second back-to-back winner of this 500-level event since Juan Martin del Potro in 2008-2009.

Zverev came out with a plan. He took it to the teen, who resembles a young Jesus Christ, with almost a steely manner

“Honestly I tried to rush him a lot from the ground and from the baseline, as well,” Zverev said. “I tried to play quick so he wasn’t the one who played aggressive. Because I think he’s a great player when he’s on his front foot and when he steps in to the court.”

Tsitsipas is making his debut at Citi Open. He has defeated Jared Donaldson, another next generation compatriot this week, plus James Duckworth, and the number-three seed, David Goffin. Tsitsipas had a mature take on his loss against Zverev, seeming a bit tortured by his performance yet humble enough to say he will learn from the experience. 

“Obviously his serve,” he said, comparing previous matches to Saturdays. “The speed was so different even with the match I played with Goffin. It was not a very good returning day for me. I hadn’t returned huge serves before this week. It felt like the ball was there on my racquet but it felt like, at times, it would stop. It didn’t go the speed I expected.

Tsitsipas, whose ranking will rise to a provisional 27 on Monday, his highest, couldn’t string enough points together or keep a steady rhythm to begin to dominate Zverev. However at the tail-end of the first set, Tsitsipas showed signs of life. He was down 1-5 but held to force his opponent to serve out the set. 

“Basically all this is psychological,” he said. “I often see players that far away, say their opponent is winning five-one or five-two, and [then] tank the set. They don’t care anymore because they have less than ten percent chance of winning the set. That’s not good because [you should] play the way you’ve been playing and win the psychological points from the baseline. It gets into your opponent’s head. So it’s important to keep fighting.”

Rub

Andrey Rublev (No. 16) ousted home-town favorite Denis Kudla early Saturday. Rublew later lost to Alex De Minaur, who advanced to his second final of the year.  Photo credit Leslie Billman tennisclix.com.

“Obviously it’s great that I’m in the finals,” Zverev said. “I only hope I can go out there tomorrow and play another good match. Hopefully go to Toronto with another title. The two young guys [Rublev and De Minaur] are very motivated to win a tournament like this so it’s going to be a tough match no matter what.”

Zverev talked about his sponsors and ran off a list of well-known brands, showing yet another way he has distinguished himself from his generation of competitors. 

“I have a manager and an agent. They do all sorts of thing,” Zverev began. “They get the offers, but I decide who I want to work with, only the companies that I think are good for me. Adidas, I obviously love, it’s a German brand and I think it fits me perfectly.”

Adidas listens to his input, with regard to the clothing he wears. Except for the group for the US Open last year. “I didn’t have any say on last year’s U.S. Open clothes. The long socks were not my choice." 

In contrast, Tsitsipas recalled his transition from the Challenger Tour to the ATP World Tour.

“It was the first time that I qualified in the French Open, last year. And then three weeks later I qualified for Wimbledon,” Tsitsipas said. “That was the moment when I realized that I’m in there and I can play the good guys."

Zverev’s prize money earnings has topped $11 million. But he didn’t admit to elaborate spending habits. He bought his younger brother a scooter and an electric skateboard, and “I buy my dog a lot of toys.” Yet even with all that money, he can’t afford an apartment in Monte Carlo where he’d like to live. 

He can see, though, that he’s almost to the top of the Race to London rankings. 

“I think if I win here I’m going to be number two in the Race to London,” Zverev said, smiling. “The rankings … I look more on the year-end rankings, but I don’t look at it too much.”

© Jane Voigt Tennis 2013