In a battle of big-hitters, 21-year-old Alexander Zverev came out the victor in the second of Saturday’s semifinals of the Italian Open in Rome.
The 2nd-seeded Zverev notched his 13th consecutive victory by getting the better of 4th-seeded Marin Cilic 7-6 (13), 7-5.
There was little to separate the players throughout the first set. Zverev appeared to be the slightly stronger player and made better progress against his opponent’s serve, but not enough for him to earn a break. Both players landed over 80 percent of their first serves throughout the first half of the set and things proceeded without much drama until 5-all.
At that point, Zverev earned triple break point behind an impressive backhand pass and a strong return. But Cilic held firm with two strong serves pegging him back to 30-40 and then a bad forehand error from the German squandering the last chance. The Croatian went on to hold and moments later the players found themselves in a tiebreak.
The tiebreak began with the men taking turns winning four consecutive points. Zverev jumped out to the early lead, but Cilic immediately responded. From 4-all, the players exchanged strong serves and untimely misses all the way through three more changeovers. The tiebreak, which lasted in total over 20 minutes, eventually ended with Zverev playing immaculate defense until a Cilic forehand landed in the net.
Following the set, Zverev received treatment on an upper-body injury from the trainer. Cilic appeared to capitalize on the ailment early in the second set, earning triple break point quickly and winning the second after a forehand miss from the German.
The Croatian was quick to consolidate his lead at 2-0 and overall won seven of the first eight points of the set.
The players traded routine holds throughout the middle portion of the set, but in the eighth game, Zverev finally found an opening. The German squandered two break points, but earned another after running down a dropshot and forcing Cilic to lob long. On his seventh chance, the world number 3 finally broke the Cilic serve after the Croatian fired a forehand error into the net.
The German went on to hold for 5-4, but Cilic quickly answered with his own routine hold. Zverev held again, forcing the Croatian to serve to stay in the match.
Cilic committed three unforced errors to eventually give Zverev two match points at 15-40. The German missed a backhand up the line on the first, but, after playing great defense to stay in the rally, he ran down a drop volley and fired a backhand winner to finish the contest.
13 consecutive wins, and 30 for the season!
— Tennis TV (@TennisTV) May 19, 2018
For Zverev, the win earns him the opportunity to defend his title in Rome from last year when he defeated Novak Djokovic in the final for what was, at the time, the biggest tournament victory of his career.
Since that time, Zverev has notched two more masters 1000 titles including the most recent one in Madrid earlier this month. But while the German has impressed of late, the sternest of tests awaits in the final in the form of Rafael Nadal, who defeated Djokovic in the first semifinal in straight sets.