With A Masterful Recovery, Zverev Wins Second Madrid Title

Alexander Zverev (photo: @MutuaMadridOpen/Twitter)

MADRID/WASHINGTON, May 9, 2021 (by Michael Dickens)

There’s been a distinct pattern developing this season on the ATP Tour in which past or present #NextGenATP players have met in each of the ATP Masters 1000 finals. It began in Miami when Huburt Hurkacz defeated Jannik Sinner. It continued in Monte-Carlo as Stefanos Tsitsipas beat Andrey Rublev, and it repeated Sunday evening as Alexander Zverev battled Matteo Berrettini in the final of the Mutua Madrid Open at La Caja Mágica in the Spanish capital city.

While the World No. 10 Berrettini arrived at his first ATP Masters 1000 title match, the World No. 6 Zverev came seeking his fourth ATP Masters 1000 title to go with two he won in 2017 at Rome and Montreal and in 2018 at Madrid. In the end, Zverev’s experience won out – he gave a masterful performance – but he had to recover to do it.

Zverev won his second Mutua Madrid Open title three years after the first with a comeback 6-7 (8), 6-4, 6-3 victory over Berrettini that lasted two hours and 40 minutes. It was full of quality, entertaining tennis throughout, and was played with the roof closed on Manolo Santana Stadium due to the rain.

After beating the World No. 2 Nadal and the World No. 4 Thiem, Zverev put together his third consecutive Top-10 winning performance with his triumph over Berrettini. It was the second time that he’s posted at least three Top-10 wins at a single tournament, following his 2018 Nitto ATP Finals championship run.

Tennis TourTalk asked Zverev during his final virtual press conference in Madrid if this has been one of his best weeks in recent memory. He said: “It was a good week for me. Matteo today was extremely difficult for me in a way I hadn’t played anybody who serves 235 (km/h) and dominates the ball like he does.

“Against Rafa and Dominic, those matches were different. Obviously great players on clay – maybe the two best players right now. Against Matteo, it was extremely difficult, just getting the ball back in play and getting the ball deep enough to have a chance to win the point. Coming back from a set down to win the title, I’m extremely happy with that.” 

Zverev came into Sunday’s final against Berrettini leading their head-to-head 2-1 – all of them in ATP Masters 1000 competitions – with each owning victories over the other on clay in Berrettin’s hometown of Rome (Zverev in 2018 and Berrettini in 2019) and the tie-breaker being Zverev’s 2019 semifinal victory on hard court in Shanghai in 2019.

“He has been playing exceptionally well this week,” Zverev said of Berrettini. “He’s hitting the ball so hard, serving extremely well. It’s going to be difficult.”

Indeed, Berrettini hit five aces and got the first break of the match to go ahead 4-3 in the opening set. However, he was unable to consolidate it and both firmly held their ground on the red clay over the next four games. The set was decided in a tie break that was won by Berrettini 10-8 after Zverev went big on his second serve and double faulted, then netted a weak backhand return off of a Berrettini first serve. Berrettini jumped out to a 5-0 tie-break lead before letting Zverev back into it. However, he won four of the final five points to take some momentum into the second set after 69 minutes of high-quality play.

On serve through eight games, the second set came down to a double fault by Berrettini – down a break-point at 4-all – which gave the game to Zverev. He was able to capitalize on Berrettini’s lapse to put away the second set 6-4 after the Italian squashed a 12-shot rally by hitting a drop-shot return wide. After an hour and 54 minutes, it was onward to a third set with little margin for error.

After Zverev fought off a double fault and saved a break point to reach deuce, he held for 2-all, thanks to a couple of unforced errors by Berrettini. Then, the German broke Berrettini at 15-40 after he ended a seven-shot rally by hitting a powerful forehand long and wide. It gave Zverev a 3-2 advantage – just the edge he had been looking for. He promptly hit his fourth ace and consolidated the break for a 4-2 margin in his favor.

Although Berrettini recovered to hold at love with his seventh ace plus an overhead smash winner to narrow the gap, Zverev got a love hold of his own that was set up by his fifth ace and an unreturnable backhand that Berrettini netted. With the reduced capacity crowd inside La Caja Mágica coming alive –  and Zverev ahead 5-3 with the finish line in sight – the 24-year-old  promptly dug himself in and finished off Berrettini by winning on his second championship-point opportunity after the Italian hit one final backhand wide.

Zverev raised his hands in celebration, the two competitors shared a cordial handshake and a stomach pat at the net. With the title, it meant that Zverev had garnered his second Madrid title to go with his fourth ATP Masters 1000 title – fifth-most among active players – and it was his 15th title overall. Zverev is now the 12th active player to have won at least 15 ATP singles titles.

Looking back, the 6-foot-6-inch Zverev’s path to the title match began with a second-round win over Kei Nishikori 6-3, 6-2, followed by a third-round victory over Dan Evans, 6-3, 7-6 (3). Then, there was 6-4, 6-4 quarterfinal-round the upset of No. 1 seed Rafael Nadal coupled with a solid semifinal win over No. 3 seed Dominic Thiem, 6-3, 6-4.

Tennis TourTalk asked Zverev after reaching the title match how challenging it had been to play Nadal and Thiem back-to-back and come through with a pair of satisfying victories. He said: “They’re probably the two clay-courters that you think of right now when. You’re thinking about Roland Garros and the biggest chances of winning. Obviously, Rafa is the favorite no matter what. Probably Novak second, Dominic a close third.

“It’s been so far a good week for me. As I said, the job is not done yet. [Sunday] I have a very difficult opponent. I hope I can continue playing and performing the way I am.”

Zverev was broken just once, and as the match progressed, he became the steadier player as Berrettini continued to roll up the unforced errors, ending with 50 to Zverev’s 28. Zverev finished with five aces, won 76 percent of his first-serve points, converted four of eight break-point chances and outpointed Berrettini 107-98.

Zverev saved plenty of praise for Berrettini during the trophy ceremony. “I want to congratulate Matteo on an amazing week. I think you deserved to win this title as much as I did,” he said after receiving his champion’s trophy. Then, looking at Berrettini, he said: “You know, I know this moment isn’t the greatest – trust me, I’ve been there. I felt 100 times worse after the US Open final – but when you win a title like this, you’ll feel even better. It will feel so much more special, I think. Not I think, I’m sure you will. Next week is Rome, in your home town. You’re one of the favorites there. If you’re playing the way you’re playing [here], I’ll cheering for you there.”

After the trophy ceremony, in which Berrettini spoke to fans in both English and Spanish, he was introspective at he fielded questions virtual from the international media. Tennis TourTalk asked Berrettini if he had any regrets after losing the title to Zverev. He responded: “No, I mean, spoke to my team a little bit after the match. Obviously, we are all upset – and I’m the most upset one – but no, I had a break point in the third and [Sascha] played really good.

“This is just tennis. I actually felt that in the first set, even though I was up a break, I wasn’t playing my best tennis. I was playing good at the beginning of the second and I couldn’t get the break, nothing. Then, the third it was a fight. No regrets at all. I left it all [out there]. I played good – I didn’t play unbelievable – but I think also it’s what he did to make me play not my best tennis.”

Granollers/Zeballos end Croatian duo’s Masters dominance

Croatians Nikola Mektic and Mate Pavic came into the Mutua Madrid Open men’s doubles final with a remarkable 32-3 record and seeking their sixth Tour title of the year. They had already captured Masters 1000 crowns at the Miami Open and the Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters.

However, on Sunday afternoon, the second seeds had formidable opposition from No. 3 seeds Marcel Granollers of Spain and Horacio Zeballos from Argentina, who were searching for their first title of the season after reaching the Acapulco final in March and following their success in winning three titles last year. They were also looking to avenge their semifinal defeat to Mektic and Pavic in last month’s Monte-Carlo title match.

After losing a one-sided opening set, Granollers and Zeballos regrouped and got a key service break that helped to level the match after the second set. Then, the Spanish/Argentine duo played solidly in the match tie-break and won 1-6, 6-3, 10-8 to capture the Madrid title. The victory improved their win-loss record this season to 9-5 and it was their third Masters 1000 title since forming in 2019.

Mektic and Pavic won the 22-minute first set 6-1 in back of a 93-percent success rate (14 of 15) on points won while facing no break points. They broke early for a 3-1 lead, consolidated the break and broke again for 5-1. They served out the set after playing near-perfect tennis. Then, Granollers and Zeballos broke in the eighth game of the second set to go ahead 5-3 and consolidated the break to force a match tie-break.

In the match tie-break, on serve at 4-3 Granollers and Zeballos broke after the Argentine poached a volley at the net that Pavic returned wide. Then, they broke again to lead 8-4 after Granollers hit a forehand winner off a Mektic serve. Although the Croatians got one of the breaks back to narrow the gap, Granollers and Zeballos won 10-8 on their third championship-point opportunity thanks to an overhead smash by Granollers on the third shot of the last rally of the title match. Despite the loss Mektic and Pavic outpointed Granollers and Zeballos 55-47.