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By Richard Pagliaro | Tuesday, September 8, 2020

 
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Alexander Zverev slashed 18 aces battling by Borna Coric 1-6, 7-6(5), 7-6(1), 6-3 into his second straight major semifinal at the US Open.

Photo credit: Andrew Ong/USTA

Blown out in the opening set, Illness and fatigue struck Alexander Zverev as he went down a break in the second.

The fifth seed was sick and tired of his subpar level of play.

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A focused Zverev amped up the aggression on his second serve, stepped closer to the baseline and banged his way past his nemesis into his first career US Open semifinal.

Zverev slashed 18 aces battling by Borna Coric 1-6, 7-6(5), 7-6(1), 6-3 into his second straight major semifinal following his run to the Australian Open final four.




It wasn't always pretty and it certainly wasn't easy, but Zverev's desire and guts to open up and swing away when trailing sparked a dynamic comeback. 

The 23-year-old Zverev is the first German man to reach the US Open semifinals since Boris Becker, who Zverev once nearly hired as coach, did it back in 1995. Zverev will face either 12th-seeded Canadian Denis Shapovalov or 20th-seeded Spaniard Pablo Carreno Busta for a spot in Sunday's final.

"Obviously, I didn't play well. It's no secret about it," Zverev said. "I was down 6-1, 4-2 after about 28 minutes. It's not a secret I didn't play my best.

"But I found a way, found a way to win that second set, and I feel like that's the most important. I think the Novak news shocked us all, and obviously for us younger guys, we see that as a massive opportunity, but we have to put our head down and just do our job and focus on ourselves."


Through his first 18 Grand Slam appearances, Zverev’s mental fragility was a stumbling block that prevent him from reaching a major semifinal.

Strengthening his body and stabilizing his mind, Zverev met the challenge with commitment today sometimes reaching back for second serves in the 130 mph range and running down everything the tough Croatian threw at him beating Coric for the second time in five meetings.

“I just started playing maybe a little bit more aggressive because if I would have played the way I played it’s not the level for a quarterfinal of a Grand Slam,” Zverev told ESPN’s Brad Gilbert afterward. “I had to start playing better. I was a little more consistent, my serve got better.

“I thought to myself I’m down 6-1, 4-2, I had nothing to lose at that moment.”

The 27th-seeded Coric pulled off the comeback of the tournament rallying from two-sets-to-one and 1-5 down saving six match points in a stunning comeback conquest of world No. 6 Stefanos Tsitsipas in round three.

World No. 1 Novak Djokovic once said Coric’s style reminded him of himself when he was a young player. With Djokovic disqualified from the tournament, Coric breezed through the opening set today and was two holds away from a two-set lead.

Zverev wasn’t having it.

"In general I think he just improved his serve a lot," Coric said. "He's serving really huge.

"It was very good match, very good competing, as well. In the third and fourth sets, I just felt like he also raised his level by a milestone.

"He was playing some really, really good tennis, because I thought I was not playing actually bad. I just thought he was too good in the third and in the fourth sets."

This match was a rematch of the 2017 US Open second round when Coric rallied from a set down to surprise Zverev. The feisty Coric denied 10 of 11 break points in that match, while Zverev denied six of seven break points that day.

Rallies were rare and Zverev’s second serve was undercooked at the outset of today’s rematch.

The lanky German clanked three double faults gifting the break and a 3-1 lead.

Tenacity is a trademark of Coric’s game and he showed stubborn spirit battling back from double break point down to confirm the break.

Haunted by that triple double fault debacle, Zverev was operating from well behind the baseline when Coric pierced the baseline breaking again for 5-1 before serving out the opening set.




Five games into the second set, Zverev, furious that the chair umpire ruled an incorrect out call had impeded Coric’s swing, briefly argued his case with both the chair umpire and supervisor Lars Graff.

The German did not win the argument then lost a slick net exchange to face a break point. Though he saved it, Zverev netted a backhand as Coric broke for 3-2.

It was Coric’s time to tighten in the eighth game. Zverev raked a beautiful running forehand off the back edge of the baseline for a break point. The ensuing exchange was one of the longest of the match. Coric came in behind a backhand, but Zverev spun a forehand pass breaking back for 4-all.

That break infused Zverev with new life, while Coric tried to regroup leaving court again to change clothes for the second time in the set.

“Second time in a set—it’s not possible,” Zverev said to chair umpire Eva Asderaki-Moore.

In the tiebreaker, a jittery Coric whacked a wild backhand wide then sent a flat forehand wide down the opposite sideline giving his opponent two set points.




Zverev unleashed a primal scream taking a tiebreaker from Coric for the first time to force a fourth set.

Credit Zverev, who can get cranky on court in tough times, for hanging tough. That perseverance paid off as he pulled off an impeccable running forehand down the line earning the first break of the third set—and his first lead of the day—for 3-1. Zverev shanked a smash long to give the break right back.

The tempo of the match—Zverev was not pleased by Coric’s continued clothing changes—was another point of contention.

Serving at 5-6, Zverev sprinted down a tough drop shot and shoveled a winning replay down the line in a spectacular game-changer.

One of the softest shots of the match had huge impact—had Zverev lost it he’d be facing a double set point. Instead, it ignited a four-point run as he held forcing the breaker.




“It was a huge point,” Zverev said. “But this is what I’ve been doing for the past six months. I’ve been in the gym, been on the track trying to get my speed up a little and my conditioning. And this is the moment where it pays off. All the six months of hard work and this might be the point where it pays off.”

Lifting his level, Zverev revved up his serving taking it to places his opponent could not match.

A 137 mph bullet serve from Zverev followed by a 134 mph ace rocketed out wide but the German up 5-1. Zverev charged through 10 of the last 11 points taking a two-sets-to-one lead.

The 2018 ATP Finals champion stood tall digging out of a love-40 hole and denying a fourth break point to hold for 3-2.




Three hours, 18 minutes into the match, Zverev was sliding into the doubles alley when he drilled a forehand pass down the line breaking for 5-3.

The drama was not done. Bending low, Coric caught the sideline with a crosscourt backhand pass saving a second match point.

Coric slid a backhand wide and groaned giving Zverev a third match point. Hammering one final serve, Zverev sealed a physical victory in three hours, 25 minutes.

 

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