US Open: Zverev credits comeback win over Djokovic as reason for winning streak

By Sports Desk September 02, 2021

Alexander Zverev believes his comeback victory over Novak Djokovic at the Olympics has paved the way for his fine start at the US Open.

Zverev came from a set down to defeat world number one Djokovic 1-6 6-3 6-1 at the semi-final stage in Tokyo, with the German going on to claim gold by beating Karen Khachanov in straight sets.

The world number four carried the winning form to Cincinnati, triumphing at the Western and Southern Open, and has made a smooth start at Flushing Meadows, where he lost out to Dominic Thiem in last year's final.

Zverev did not offer up a single break point in a dominant first-round win over Sam Querrey, and lost only four games when cruising past Albert Ramos-Vinolas 6-1 6-0 6-3 on Thursday.

"The process started at the Olympics for me, and the match against Novak," Zverev told reporters.

"That kind of started it off, because I was down badly, and I managed to win with great tennis.

"It was very important for me to kind of back it up in Cincinnati, because a lot of the times players that for the first time in their career win something really big like a grand slam title or a gold medal, they do tend to go downhill a little bit.

"So it was important for me to go to Cincinnati, to a place where I have never won a match before this year, and have a great tournament."

Another motivation for Zverev is the cruel fashion in which he lost to Thiem last year, when he surrendered a two-set lead.

"I mean I was the first man in 785 years to lose a US Open from two sets to love up and being a break up in the third set, serving for it in the fifth set, being two points away multiple times, it was painful," Zverev said with a smile.

"I still remember it, I remember it every single time I walk on this board but I take it as motivation because I'm back here to hopefully play a great tournament and win a grand slam title, that's what I’m here to do."

Zverev has now tallied up 40 wins in 2021 and 13 on the bounce, though the 24-year-old - who could meet Djokovic in the semi-finals - knows he has to maintain his strong service game to keep his best tennis.

"My serve is kind of the key to my game. When it's working I'm playing great. When it's not, I'm losing matches like I did at Wimbledon," he said.

"It's no secret that my serve is probably the most important shot in my game, and I'm happy with how it's working. The matches are not going to get easier and I will need that to be my weapon.

"I think it was always a problem of mine at the beginning of my career that I always spent a lot of hours, a lot of time in the beginning of grand slam tournaments. So it's nice to have two matches, winning [them] in straight sets."

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    When Wimbledon ended last year, there were two great takeaways from the tournament: Novak Djokovic would soon be pulling away in the grand slam title race and Ash Barty was beginning a new era of dominance.

    Both seemed to be knock-ins, and yet neither has come to pass. Djokovic missed out on a calendar Grand Slam in New York before being banished from Australia, and despite drawing level with Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer on 20 grand slams with his Centre Court triumph, he now finds himself two adrift of the Spaniard again.

    Barty, meanwhile, has left her own party. The then world number one stunned the tennis world by retiring in March, having added the Australian Open she so craved to her trophy cabinet.

    Djokovic and Iga Swiatek head into Wimbledon, which begins on Monday, as the top seeds.

    Stats Perform has used Opta facts to consider what the men's and women's singles might deliver.

     

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    There will come a time when the Wimbledon favourite is not one of the 'Big Three'. That time is not now.

    Djokovic is the man most likely, as he targets his fourth straight Wimbledon title and seventh overall; since 2011, when he beat Nadal in the final, the Serbian has only been absent from the trophy match three times (in 2012, 2016 and 2017).

    His winning run of 21 matches at Wimbledon is the fifth-longest in the men's singles. Bjorn Borg holds the record (41 between 1976 and 1981).

    The last player other than Djokovic, Nadal, Federer and Andy Murray to win the Wimbledon men's title was Lleyton Hewitt in 2002. Federer is absent this year and may have played his last Wimbledon.

    Nadal has won Wimbledon twice, in 2008 and 2010. He won the French Open, Wimbledon and the US Open in 2010, the only season of his career when he has won three slams. This year, at the age of 36, he has the Australian and French Open trophies already locked away, potentially halfway to a calendar Grand Slam, last achieved in men's singles in 1969 by Rod Laver.

    Should Nadal pull off another major coup, it would make him only the second man in the Open Era (from 1968) to win the season's first three singles slams, after Laver in 1969 and Djokovic last year.

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    What of Murray? Well, only Federer (19), Sampras (10), Laver and Jimmy Connors (both nine) have won more ATP titles on grass than the Scot in the Open Era. If he recovers from an abdominal strain, he has a shot at reaching the second week. He will of course have the full backing of the Wimbledon crowd.

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    There has not been an American men's singles champion since 2000, and although the United States has six players seeded, more than any other nation, it seems a safe enough assumption we will be saying a similar thing again in 12 months' time.

    Third seed Casper Ruud has never won a singles match at Wimbledon, while fourth seed Stefanos Tsitsipas has not had a win since reaching the fourth round in 2018. Daniil Medvedev, the world number one, cannot compete at The All England Club after their contentious decision to ban Russian and Belarusian players due to Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

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    From the jaws of retirement, Serena Williams is back. Silence from the 40-year-old about her intentions had become almost deafening, and yet here she is, back at Wimbledon on a wildcard, hoping to rekindle the old magic.

    Because she has pushed back against the doubters for over two decades now, you have to take this seriously. Her haul of 23 grand slams is one short of Margaret Court's all-time record and Williams would dearly love to at least match it.

    Three years ago, Williams became the oldest player to reach Wimbledon's women's singles final when she lost to Simona Halep. Six years ago, she was the oldest champion when she beat Angelique Kerber.

    Only four women in the draw this year besides Williams have been champion before: Petra Kvitova (in 2011 and 2014), Garbine Muguruza (in 2017), Kerber (in 2018) and Halep (in 2019).

    World number one Iga Swiatek starts as favourite. Junior Wimbledon champion four years ago, she has scooped two women's French Open titles since then and is on a 35-match winning streak.

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    The only competitive warm-up for Williams came in two doubles matches at Eastbourne, having not played since sustaining a hamstring injury at Wimbledon last year. The seven-time champion might consider it a challenge that there has never been an unseeded Wimbledon women's singles finalist during the Open Era.

    The women's top two seeds have not met in the final since Serena faced her sister Venus in the 2002 title match, so don't hold your breath for a Swiatek versus Anett Kontaveit showpiece on July 9.

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    Fitness is likely to be the key factor in how US Open champion Emma Raducanu fares at her home grand slam, given her injury problems. Raducanu reached the fourth round on a wildcard last year and the 19-year-old will attempt to become the first British woman to reach that stage in back-to-back seasons since Jo Durie (1984, 1985).

    Ons Jabeur, meanwhile, should not be discounted. The world number three reached the quarter-finals at SW19 last year and heads to Wimbledon having won on grass at the Berlin Open, albeit Belinda Bencic had retired hurt in the final.

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    Victory at the French Open earlier in June was Nadal's 14th at Roland Garros, which is a whopping eight more than anyone else in the open era.

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    "He had a surgery in the second part of the last year and coming back after that and winning a grand slam right away is something that is really impressive," the Serbian told a media conference on Saturday.

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    "I didn't have any lead up tournaments but I've had success at Wimbledon before without having any official matches," he added.

    "I had success with adapting quickly to the surface so there is no reason to believe why I cannot do it again. I'm very pleased and happy to be back at the tournament that was always my childhood dream, the one I wanted to win. Hopefully I continue that run.

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    "As a seven, eight-year-old boy I dreamed of winning Wimbledon and becoming number one. That was the biggest motivation I had as a kid.

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    Gauff followed up her run in Paris with another encouraging showing in a grass-court warm-up at the Berlin Open, where the 18-year-old lost to Ons Jabeur in the semi-finals.

    It marked another milestone for Gauff, who had previously never advanced to a quarter-final on grass.

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