Bublik Wins Battle Of The Alexanders Over Zverev In Montpellier Final

Alexander Bublik (photo: Open Sud de France/@JBAUTISSIER)

MONTPELLIER/WASHINGTON, February 6, 2022 (by Michael Dickens)

There’s always something exciting about seeing a player win a title for the first time on the ATP Tour. After Alexander Bublik secured match point to win the ATP 250 Open Sud de France over World No. 3 Alexander Zverev for the first Top-5 victory of his career, he jumped for joy and beamed a huge smile that lit up Sud de France Arena. The fans roared their approval for Bublik, who excitedly waved to the crowd while feeling a sense of relief mixed with happiness.

The 35th-ranked Bublik’s 6-4, 6-3 victory, which came swiftly and unexpectedly in only an hour and nine minutes against the top-seeded Zverev, stopped the German’s seven-match winning streak at Montpellier that dated back to his title run in 2017.

On this winter afternoon, the battle of the Alexanders and supremacy in southern France went to the 24-year-old, happy-go-lucky Bublik, who was clad in black. He combined his raw power with an array of deft strokes that kept Zverev off balance and guessing. Finally, Bublik has a trophy and with the honors, he will reach a career high of No. 31 tomorrow when the new ATP Tour rankings are released. It was his second straight win over Zverev following an earlier victory last year at Rotterdam. He’s the second player to win their first ATP Tour singles title this season following Thanasi Kokkinakis at Adelaide last month.

“I’m feeling happiness, I guess,” Bublik said in an on-court interview before the trophy ceremony. “It’s my first title and I got it in front of the French fans, who have always supported me. It couldn’t be better.”

Bublik spoke of his longtime friendship with Zverev that goes back to their junior days as young teens. He said: “[Sascha] is a great champion and beating him in a final means a lot to me. It’s been a great week.”

Bublik’s successful week in Montpellier began with victories over Tallon Griekspoor and Pierre-Hugues Herbert. Then, he defeated No. 2 seed Roberto Bautista Agut in the quarterfinal round and No. 5 seed Filip Krajinovic in the semifinals. He dropped just two sets all tournament. Sunday’s victory over Zverev improved his 2022 season win-loss record to 7-2.

In the opening set, Bublik got the first break of the match and converted on his second opportunity with a nifty backhand passing shot down the line that completed an eight-shot rally. However, his 3-2 advantage was short-lived as Zverev broke right back at love and consolidated the break with a love hold for a 4-3 lead. Then, a game later, Bublik dug in and broke for the second time when Zverev netted a doable forehand return. He did a good job of staying in rhythm against Zverev’s powerful first serves and solid ground-stroke returns to go ahead 5-4. Serving for the set, Bublik faced a couple of break points but gained deuce with his third ace. Finally, he put away the 37-minute set after Zverev sent a forehand return long.

At 1-all in the second set, Zverev saved a pair of break points by taking advantage of a couple of unforced errors by Bublik before he finally held serve for a 2-1 lead. However, in his next service game, Bublik pressured Zverev into making some regrettable errors and broke the German at love to go ahead 3-2, needing to win just three more games to win the match. He consolidated the break at love – after winning nine straight points – and found himself with a surprising 4-2 lead. Soon, Zverev stopped Bublik’s momentum with a necessary service hold as he struck his fourth ace, but the Kazakh remained pretty solid on his service games and held at 15 with his eighth ace to go ahead 5-3.

With Zverev’s back against the wall, in the end there was no escaping Bublik’s attacking style. Bublik closed out the match with a series of fantastic returns. He secured match point on an unforced error after Zverev netted an easy return.

“I played four finals before and [in] the fifth final I have won against a great player against Sascha,” Bublik said. “It is great. All my game together. I was serving well and returned well and kept my nerve. I was lucky in the moments and when I had my chances I used them.”

Bublik struck eight aces, won 86 percent (25 of 29) of his first-serve points and broke Zverev’s serve four times in eight tries to wrap his his first ATP Tour singles title in his fifth final. He outpointed his opponent 59-46.

Meanwhile, it was just the second loss for Zverev at Montpellier in 13 career matches and it stymied his attempt to become the seventh active player to win at least 20 tour-level titles.

Congratulations Alex on your first title,” Zverev said in accepting his runner-up trophy. “I don’t think it’s going to be your last one. You played incredible this week; you didn’t really give anyone a chance. You really deserve this title. You were the best player.”

Herbert and Mahut win Open Sud de France doubles title

French duo Pierre-Hugues Herbert and Nicolas Mahut went the distance to capture their 21st tour-level title together. Sunday afternoon, Herbert and Mahut defeated Harri Heliovaara of Finland and Lloyd Glasspool of Great Britain, 4-6, 7-6 (3), 12-10, in an hour and 49 minutes.

Herbert and Mahut, who were teaming together for the first time this season, improved to 21-8 in doubles finals. They saved a match point down 9-10 and won the match tie-break on their third match-point opportunity. They outpointed Heliovaara and Glasspool, who were vying for their second ATP Tour doubles title together, 78-71.

It’s the first Montpellier title for Herbert and Mahut, whose career win-loss record improved to 192-69.

“We’ve been playing together for seven years … we were very happy to meet again,” Herbert and Mahut said in press after their victory. They said that spending time of the court and winning matches with emotion and playing in front of a French audience is what excites them.