Despite being the biggest breakout star of 2017, Alexander Zverev has struggled with his consistency in recent months.

After Roger Federer’s surgically picked apart Jack Sock in the early match, the night match at the opening day of the 2017 Nitto ATP World Tour Finals promised a different feel with 6’6″ Alex Zverev facing off against fellow giant, 6’6″ Marin Cilic. The 2014 US Open champion and the 20 year old rising star squared off for more than two hours and eventually Zverev emerged victorious, coming from a break down in the third set to overcome Cilic 6-4 3-6 6-4.

The match got off to an entertaining start, as in the very first game, the two behemoths traded booming groundstrokes. At deuce, Zverev generated a break point after winning a 29 shot rally and then produced a scintillating drop backhand volley to break and take the early lead 1-0. The two men traded holds for 2-1, but then three easy misses from Zverev gave Cilic a chance to break back. However, that was quickly snuffed out with a 136 mph ace, and despite some resistance from Cilic, Zverev held for 3-1 off some groundstroke winners. Cilic continued to produce pressure, as the next Zverev service game took several deuces to resolve, but Zverev was rock solid in pressure spots and a costly Cilic forehand miss eventually helped Zverev hold for 4-2. From there, the set proceeded without drama as the two traded holds for 5-4, followed by a hold to love punctuated by a stunning low backhand volley and then an ace to wrap up the first set 6-4 to Zverev.

 

After a routine hold to open the second set, Cilic looked to make a move quickly on the Zverev serve and he generated two break points in the next game. However, a good serve and a shaky backhand return from Cilic wiped away both of those chances. Cilic kept pushing, and it finally paid off as a couple Zverev errors gave Cilic the break for 2-0, and the big Croat consolidated for 3-0. While Zverev eventually found his footing in the set, Cilic continued to play clean power tennis on serve and eventually held for 5-2. Zverev kept fighting, saving a set point and holding for 3-5, and the pressure was back on Cilic to serve out the set. Cilic stepped up, with a line grazing inside out forehand winner at 30-30 to get his second set point. Zverev sent a forehand long, and this match was heading for a decider.

Cilic continued to raise his level of play, and it was Zverev who folded under pressure to begin the third, as a series of wayward errors gave Cilic the break and he surged ahead 2-1. It was a game to forget for the young German, but he did produce this beauty:

However, Zverev kept fighting, and at 2-3 he generated a break point off some aggressive plays. Another gorgeous lob from a defensive position handed Zverev an impressive break of serve, and the decider was level at 3. This imbued Zverev with confidence and he quickly held for 4-3. However, Cilic did not fold as he followed with a quick hold, and Zverev responded in turn for 5-4. Serving to stay in the match, the pressure finally got to Cilic as some errors and a tremendous Zverev backhand down the line produced 3 match points for the German. A strong return and an easy net putaway gave Zverev the match, a key victory for him in this group.

The first two sets were mirror images of each other, but the third set was a tense affair and Zverev showed great poise to pull it out after trailing early. Cilic will rue his missed opportunities, especially after having a game point for 4-2.

However, the beauty of the ATP finals is that one loss is not a death sentence, and Marin Cilic will certainly cling to that. In either case, both guys will be back at it on Tuesday for their second round robin matches. Stay tuned to tennis-pulse.com for complete coverage of this week’s ATP finals!