Alexander ‘The Lion’ Zverev needed Sudden Death to beat Felix ‘The Panther’ Auger-Aliassime and become king of the Ultimate Tennis Showdown jungle on Sunday.
Sudden death has been the UTS story, with all 3 finals to date needing it to determine the champions, the third being Sunday night’s UTS2 title match Zverev and Auger-Aliassime.
The second was when Anastasia ‘The Thunder’ Pavlyuchenkova won the first-ever women’s UTS event earlier on Sunday, outlasting Alizé ‘The Volcano’ Cornet 3-1: 16-8, 12-11, 11-14, 9-16, [3-1] in a back-and-forth final thats saw the Russian lead by 2 quarters to love, lose the next 2, and then save a championship point before finally triumphing.
“I love winning no matter what it is,” The Thunder explained. “It’s just nice. There were so much nerves; I hated the sudden death. I practiced it, but practice is so much different. Now it was full on.”
Zverev picked Corentin ‘The Tornado’ Moutet instead of Richard ‘The Virtuoso’ Gasquet as his semi-final opponent and it turned out to be a good decision.
The Tornado performed admirably and came up with several spectacular shots, but he did not have quite enough firepower in the end to hang with his favoured opponent.
The Lion ultimately prevailed 3-1: 17-12, 10-12, 17-12, 13-11 for his second win in as many matches during his brief UTS career.
Auger-Aliassime took advantage of an injured Gasquet to win, 3-1: 15-19, 17-12, 20-12, 23-7.
Gasquet, who was also a semi-finalist at UTS1, wasted no time taking control of the opening quarter before his knee injury grew worse.
The Virtuoso struggled to move or play any point longer than a couple of shots and could not really compete in quarters 2 and 3, but unlike fellow Frenchman Benoit ‘The Rebel’ Paire on Saturday, Gasquet at least managed to finish the match.
“It’s very good,” The Virtuoso said of the UTS event. “I’ve been here 7 weeks and played many matches.”
Auger-Aliassime commented: “I started a bit slow, but in the end I’m happy to be in the final. [Richard] told me he got hurt in the warmup, so that was unexpected.
“We were expecting a good match; he’s been playing well the last couple of weeks. But I was good when I needed to be. I feel like I’m settled in and I know how to play now.”
The Lion gets the better of The Panther
In the final, The Lion, who also beat the Canadian in sudden death on Saturday, saved one championship point to prevail over The Panther 3-2: 19-10, 11-13, 10-18, 18-8, [2-1].
The first quarter was one-sided basically the whole way in Zverev’s favour, but The Panther got close at 7-9 with a successful ‘next point counts 2’ operation, but it was all The Lion from there.
“It was high-quality,” The Lion assessed. “It was intense. Now it’s a final, unlike yesterday.”
“I’m not playing the greatest,” Auger-Aliassime admitted. “I was frustrated with two line calls, as well. I should have played my cards earlier, but that’s how it is. I’ll try to do better.”
The Panther played much better in quarter 2, quick to bring some momentum on his side, earning a 9-4 lead by winning a ‘next point counts 2’ situation with a forehand smash volley.
Zverev responded with a pair of ‘next point counts 2’ successes to pull within 9-8, but Auger-Aliassime used a ‘take away 1 serve’ card at an opportune time while leading 11-8 with only 2 minutes remaining.
Still ahead 12-11 with time expiring on the final point, the 19-year-old produced an amazing backhand pass to tie up the match.
“I was thinking about running out the clock [on the second-to-last point], but he hit a great backhand,” The Panther said. “I just found a way to close it out. It was so tight. Like yesterday, one point makes the whole difference.”
Neither player could take control throughout much the third quarter until Zverev went ahead 10-8 on a ‘next point counts 2’ card, but Auger-Aliassime used his to capitalise on both opportunities.
With a 13-10 lead in hand in the final minutes, The Panther started swinging out with more and more confidence and sprinted away with the quarter.
“I feel like he’s winning the more important points; he’s winning more cards in the middle of the set and then running away with it,” The Lion lamented. “I need to focus a little better on the important points.”
Zverev was quick to mount his comeback, building a 5-3 lead and then extending it to 7-3 by winning a pair of return points.
Auger-Aliassime got back in it by winning a ‘next point counts 2’ card for 8-10, but his chance to tie it up on the next point fell by the wayside when he missed a forehand.
The Lion responded with a ‘next point counts 2’ card of his own and forced sudden death by winning both of the points.
“Same thing as yesterday,” the 7th-ranked German reflected. “The whole tournament is going to be decided by two points.
“Let’s give it a go. Lion and Panther, we have to decide who the king of the jungle is.”
The Panther won the opening point, but tZverev came up with an un-returnable first serve to save match point, and then converted his first championship point when Auger-Aliassime netted a backhand.
Unaware of the exact sudden-death format, The Lion had to be told that the match, and the tournament, was over.
“I didn’t know I won after the last point. I thought on the last point I needed to win my serve.”
Thunder makes UTS history over The Volcano
Starting at 5-5 in the opening quarter, Pavlyuchenkova won 2 consecutive points on her own serve and then 2 straight on Cornet’s serve, thanks to a double-fault.
The Volcano was the first to play a card with a take away one serve option, but Pavlyuchenkova still won both of those points for a huge 11-5 lead.
Losing 8 points in a row marked desperation time for Cornet, who played a ‘next point counts 2’ card and converted one to pull within 12-7, but the deficit was much to big to overcome,.
“This quarter was shit, so much shit,” Cornet admitted. “I had a good start and then I don’t know what happened.
“She plays so fast, so early, it’s tough to get in the rhythm. I’ll try to do better in the second quarter. I always believe until the very end of it.”
Cornet started strongly in quarter 2, racing ahead 5-2, prompting Pavlyuchenkova to use each of her cards: ‘opponent must win in 3 shots’ and then ‘next point counts 2’, winning 2 of those points for 5-6, but she netted a routine backhand on one of the double points.
With The Volcano serving at 11-9, Pavlyuchenkova blasted back-to-back winners to finally draw even and it all came down to the 11-11 point as time expired, and then Cornet missed a backhand well long to end it.
With momentum in hand, The Thunder raced to a 4-0 lead in quarter 3, leading to a coaching timeout for The Volcano, who admitted that another ‘eruption’ was close.
Smelling blood in the water, Pavlyuchenkova used her card to force Cornet to serve-and-volley and, crucially, however, the 30-year-old won both points to stay within striking distance.
At 8-8, Pavlyuchenko put in 2 big serves for a 2-point lead, but Cornet, out of nowhere, won 6 of the next 7 points to steal the quarter.
“To be honest I was lucky to win the second quarter,” The Thunder reflected. “It’s not bizarre that I lost one. Every quarter has been super tight.”
“This is the only quarter I was behind, and I won it,” Cornet noted. “It’s a crazy game. Let’s take it to sudden death, please.”
In the fourth, Cornet started well but The Thunder still managed to earn an 8-3 advantage.
Forcing her opponent to serve-and-volley, Cornet quickly extended it to 10-4 and while Pavlyuchenkova showed brief signs of a comeback, she never got closer than 3 points from tying it up.
“I can’t believe it,” The Volcano said. “I’m excited and nervous at the same time. It’s going to end in like 20 seconds; maybe 40. It’s all about a little bit of luck right now.”
After Pavlyuchenkova took care of her first service point, Cornet saved one match point by forcing The Thunder into a forehand error.
The Volcano attempted a drop-shot on her own championship point, but the Russian retrieved it and deposited it for a winner and, on her second championship point, Pavlyuchenkova survived a long rally to clinch the title.