Monaco | Zverev squeezes through
Quarter-finals day at the Monte Carlo Masters provided some excellent matches with two unseeded players nearly making it to the last four but in the process provided the best two matches of the day.
The last match on the schedule saw Alexander Zverev celebrate his 21st birthday with a thrilling win which kept the crowd enthralled well into the late evening under lights. It took the German third seed two-hours and 39-minutes to progress past a battling Richard Gasquet 4-6 6-2 7-5 dashing his hopes of a first Masters semi-final since 2013.
I always think in France it’s always going to be a great atmosphere, when a French player is playing. Obviously a lot of spectators were for Gasquet, how they should be. I enjoyed it out there Andrei Zverev
In contrast the world No 4 is looking for his third Masters title having failed in that objective when he lost to John Isner in the Miami final.
Gasquet, who in his previous match became the first Frenchman to record 500 wins on the ATP Tour, struggled to close out the first set and was broken when 5-2 in front, but did take it in the 10th game on his second set point with an exquisite drop shot.
The 31-year-old saw five break points come and go in the opening game of the second set, and Zverev took full advantage by moving 4-1 ahead, wrapping up the set to level the match, and then broke in the second game of the decider.
Breaks were then exchanged with Gasquet showing some flashes of brilliance as he pushed his higher ranked adversary to the limit as the match edged its way to what looked like an inevitable tie-break
Zverev, however, broke French hearts when he struck a brilliant backhand passing shot in the 12th game to grab his fourth win from four meetings with Gasquet, setting up a semi-final meeting with Kei Nishikori who had also battled his way into the last four.
“The third set was very intense, a lot of tight moments. I feel like in the tightest moments we both played the best tennis. I am just happy with my performance tennis-wise, also mentally-wise. It was great. I always think in France it’s always going to be a great atmosphere, when a French player is playing. Obviously a lot of spectators were for Gasquet, how they should be. I enjoyed it out there”, Zverev commented after his win.
Earlier Kei Nishikori continued his excellent run in Monaco having returned last January from a four-month spell on the sidelines with a right wrist problem, by upsetting the second seed Marin Cilic 6-4 6-7(1) 6-3.
The Japanese star took control early to take the opener and pushed the Croat all the way in the second. He dropped his serve having failed to break Cilic in the third game when he held five break points. Unfortunately, Cilic then called for treatment on his right knee and was immediately broken when the match resumed.
Nishikori continued to be the more consistent player, but he wasted three match points when serving for a semi-final place at 5-4 as the match slipped into a tie-breaker which Cilic dominated losing just one point.
The former world number four dug deep before breaking Cilic in the eighth game of the deciding set and clinched a well-deserved victory when Cilic committed another error.
“Every match I am improving. Today was a tough match. He was playing very good, especially in the second set. He was playing aggressively, taking the ball early and serving well” Nishikori said following his victory.
Meanwhile in the top half of the draw Rafa Nadal crushed Dominic Thiem 6-0 6-2 to gain his place in the last four as he edged closer to securing an 11th Monte Carlo title.
The tight match which had been anticipated never materialised as Nadal simply took control and powered his way past the Austrian in a ruthless manner.
“I think I played a great match, my best match of the tournament for sure and one the best I’ve played on clay for a while,” said Nadal who needs to win the event if he is to remain at the top of the world rankings.
The Spaniard will face Grigor Dimitrov in the semi-final who will have to raise his game dramatically if he is to make an impression on the rampant world No.1.
The 26-year-old Bulgarian reached the last four with 6-4 7-6(5) victory over his doubles partner David Goffin, who held a 5-1 lead in the second set before collapsing.
The Belgian wasted three set points on his own serve as he tightened up on the most important points as Dimitrov stormed back, breaking him twice, to force a tie-breaker where he wrapped up his win on his second match point.
“I felt like I could have done things a bit better, especially at the beginning of the second set,” Dimitrov acknowledged. “Hopefully in my next match, I can do better in those moments.”
On learning that he would be facing Nadal, he added: “Yes, for sure he’s the favourite. Yes, he has a great record. Yes, he’s the best player on clay. That definitely doesn’t discourage me. That excites me to get out on Saturday and play my match, simple as that.”