Dubai | Zverev tops Djokovic in World Tennis League

Among the surprises on Day 2 of the World Tennis League on Tuesday was the return of Alexander Zverev, who stunned Novak Djokovic, and the unexpected appearance of Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, absent from the WTA Tour since May due to a knee injury.

The atmosphere was amazing. I’ve missed being on court, I’ve missed playing in front of this kind of crowd, in these stadiums. I knew I had to play the best tennis I’ve played in the last seven months, which is not that difficult, but I’m happy to get my first win in a long time. Alexander Zverev

Zverev too has not played since enduring a career-threatening ankle injury at Roland Garros in May, but the German stepped out onto court against Djokovic, playing for The Falcons, at the 2022 World Tennis League, and pulled off a win that sensationally enabled is team, the Hawks, to come back despite a massive deficit.

Having torn three lateral ligaments in his right ankle in a horrific injury, Zverev had hoped to be ready to return for Davis Cup duty in November, but then suffered an unsettling setback.

“And the actual injury was also healed, but then I was told that the bones are not ready for the strain,” he said in a recent interview. “Because I had extreme bone damage, had bone edema, and also a stress fracture in my bone at some point.

“That was a bit difficult for me mentally. Because then I had to start again, and was told that now I can’t do anything for 6 weeks.”

Pavlyuchenkova stepped in as a replacement after Anett Kontaveit had to withdraw from The Hawks team due to injury, and she teamed up with Dominic Thiem to take on Grigor Dimitrov & Paula Badosa in a highly anticipated match.

Dimitrov & Badosa got The Falcons off a good start, narrowly defeating Dominic Thiem & Pavlyuchenkova in a match tiebreak.

The Hawks needed two chances to take the opening set, with Thiem failing to serve it out at 5-4 before Badosa dropped her serve at 5-5, leaving Pavlyuchenkova to close out the set instead.

Just one break of Thiem’s serve at 1-0 in the second was enough to give the Falcons the set, and they then swept to a commanding 5-0 lead in the match tiebreak to lead the tie 1-0.

“We’re having fun, enjoying, and at the same time competing,” Badosa said after their win. “It’s a good opportunity for us.

“It’s an amazing chance to share moments with Novak, learning from him as well.”


Paula Badosa (R) & Grigor Dimitrov got The Falcons off to a good start but The Hawks prevailed in the singles rubbers

© Francois Nel/Getty Images

After Dimitrov & Badosa won the opening mixed doubles rubber, 5-7 6-3 [10-4], and Aryna Sabalenka took the first set against Elena Rybakina 6-0, The Falcons had an enormous lead against The Hawks, but Rybakina managed to turn her women’s singles match around before Zverev pulled off his massive upset of Djokovic, 6-3 6-4, to complete a remarkable come-back for his team, which won the tie, 35-27.

Rybakina, the reigning Wimbledon champion, representing The Hawks, came back from dropping the first set by a bagel to beat Sabalenka, 0-6 6-1 [10-6], which narrowed the Falcons’ lead to 20-18 ahead of the final men’s singles match.

Sabalenka, from Belarus, converted 3 of her 4 break points to take the bagel after only 20 minutes, dropping just 4 points on her serve, but Rybakina came roaring back, losing just a single game in the second.

The Kazakh slammed down 4 aces and won 90% of her first serve points as she broke Sabalenka twice to send the match into a decisive match tiebreak.

Sabalenka earned an early mini-break to take a 2-0 lead, but Rybakina won 5 points in a row to take a 5-2 lead and, although the Belarusian reeled off the next 3 points to draw level at 5-5, the Russian-born Kazakh won 5 of the final 6 points to score a crucial win for The Hawks.


Elena Rybakina took The Hawks to within 2 points of The Falcons with a come-back win over Aryna Sabalenka on Day 2 of the World Tennis League in Dubai

© Francois Nel/Getty Images

With just 2 points now separating The Hawks from The Falcons, the tie came down to the men’s singles and few would have tipped Zverev to beat 21-time Grand Slam champion Djokovic, who started the better of the two as he got an early break, and soon led 2-0.

Zverev, though, broke back, and added another to snatch the first set, 6-3.

Sensationally, the German broke Djokovic two more times and, after an hour and 8 minutes, The Hawks had won 6-3 6-4 to complete a perfect comeback against The Falcons, winning the tie 35-27.

“The atmosphere was amazing,” Zverev said on court. “I’ve missed being on court, I’ve missed playing in front of this kind of crowd, in these stadiums.

“I knew I had to play the best tennis I’ve played in the last seven months, which is not that difficult, but I’m happy to get my first win in a long time.”

Zverev, no doubt, was helped by the rules of the exhibition event that have removed ad-scoring from all matches.

Up next, The Falcons will take on The Eagles, while The Hawks will lock horns with The Kites in the second round of fixtures.

Djokovic will need to recover quickly, though, as he is set to play against Nick Kyrgios on Wednesday, while Zverev should have 3 days free as his team’s next men’s singles match is due be played by Thiem on Thursday, unless a change is made.

WTL is an invitational exhibition event and therefore results will not count towards official tour head-to-head records, meaning that Djokovic and Zverev’s stays at 7-4 in the Serbian’s favour, although in their most recent encounter, the German beat him in the semi-finals of the 2021 ATP Finals in 3 sets.


Novak Djokovic found himself at a disadvantage against Alexander Zverev with the no-ad rules of the WTL

© Francois Nel/Getty Images

Day 2 Results – Hawks d Falcons, 35-27

  • Grigor Dimitrov & Paula Badosa (Falcons) d Domic Thiem & Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova (Hawks), 5-7 6-3 [10-4]
  • Elina Rybakina (Hawks) d Aryna Sabalenka (Falcons), 0-6 6-1 [10-6]
  • Alexander Zverev (Hawks) d Novak Djokovic (Falcons), 6-3 6-4

Day 3 Schedule – Falcons v Eagles

  • Grigor Dimitrov & Aryna Sabalenka v Andreas Seppi & Bianca Andreescu
  • Paula Badosa v Caroline Garcia
  • Novak Djokovic v Nick Kyrgios

worldtennisleague.com

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