Zverev seals semi-final berth with shocking four-set win over Alcaraz

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Zverev seals semi-final berth with shocking four-set win over Alcaraz


By Marc McGowan
Updated

The Australian Open title race just swung right open.

Former world No.2 Alex Zverev produced his finest performance since before his gruesome ankle injury at the 2022 French Open to shockingly dump dual grand slam champion Carlos Alcaraz out of the tournament.

Alexander Zverev celebrates after winning the quarter-finals singles match against Carlos Alcaraz.Credit: Getty Images

The German, who is set to stand trial on domestic violence charges, put on a serving masterclass to eliminate the second-seeded Spaniard 6-1, 6-3, 6-7 (2-7), 6-4 in their quarter-final and prevent the top four seeds filling out the semi-finals.

Zverev had never beaten a top-five opponent in a grand slam before Wednesday night’s win.

“I’m playing one of the best players in the world, especially over the last two years – he has been No.1, No.2 constantly, and he’s won two slams,” Zverev said.

“When you are up 6-1, 6-3, 5-2, you start thinking. We are all human, and it’s a great honour to play against guys like him, then when you are so close to winning, obviously your brain starts going, and it’s not always helpful.

“But I’m happy I got there in the end. I fought back quite well in the fourth set. I didn’t let go, and I’m quite happy to finish the match.”

Zverev next meets third seed Daniil Medvedev, who outlasted Pole Hubert Hurkacz in five sets, on Friday to try to make his second slam final, behind the 2020 US Open. Medvedev won five of their six meetings last year.

Ten-time champion Novak Djokovic and fast-rising Italian Jannik Sinner are the other semi-finalists.

It is the second time Zverev – who has never captured a major title – has advanced to the Australian Open semi-finals, having first done so in 2020 after he also won the boys’ final at Melbourne Park in 2014.

Alexander Zverev, left, of Germany walks behind Carlos Alcaraz of Spain.

Alexander Zverev, left, of Germany walks behind Carlos Alcaraz of Spain.Credit: AP

“He has been kicking my arse a lot over the last year or so, but maybe this will be it, this will be the place,” Zverev said of Medvedev.

An ultra-aggressive Zverev broke Alcaraz to love in the second game to set the tone for his night, including a first-serve percentage that hovered barely below a ridiculous 90 per cent throughout the contest.

The Spanish prodigy’s display contrasted greatly with his demolition job of Serbian Miomir Kecmanovic two nights earlier.

Alcaraz’s shot selection was poor at times, he often missed by large margins, and he engaged in several agitated conversations with his team, which is missing coach Juan Carlos Ferrero in Melbourne.

Carlos Alcaraz of Spain plays a forehand against Alexander Zverev.

Carlos Alcaraz of Spain plays a forehand against Alexander Zverev.Credit: Getty Images

Even still, Alcaraz flirted with staging an unlikely comeback when he broke a nerve-riddled Zverev as he tried to serve out the match at 5-3 in the third set. He levelled the set at five-all before unleashing a series of spectacular winners in the tie-breaker.

Zverev played a role in losing his grip on the match, reining in his aggression as the finish line loomed, only for Alcaraz to come alive.

The Spaniard’s frustration was soon replaced with wide grins.

Zverev briefly halted Alcaraz’s momentum with a break of serve to start the fourth set, but handed it straight back. The 26-year-old appeared to be hanging on for dear life at times as his younger opponent rallied, but the aggressive Zverev returned just in time.

Zverev played some great points to hold for four-all, then Alcaraz unravelled again before the Rod Laver Arena crowd’s eyes to hand over a break somewhat against the flow.

There was some tension when Alcaraz whipped a cross-court forehand winner to reduce Zverev to 30-all as he tried to close the match out a second time. But Zverev would not be denied on this occasion, fittingly completing the match with a big first serve that his rival could not retrieve.

Zverev was once considered a key part of Generation Next, along with Stefanos Tsitsipas, but could never quite break through on the biggest stages – and has watched Alcaraz and Sinner surge past them.

He has faced increased scrutiny at this Australian Open about his domestic violence allegations, including from this masthead, while the event’s social media team has largely avoided referencing him. Zverev strenuously denies the allegations.

Journalists have questioned whether it was appropriate for him to remain on the ATP player council, voted by his peers, with his court case unresolved, but he responded: “Why would it not be?”

Zverev has played through that attention, and twice survived five-set clashes to make it to the quarter-finals, including being two-sets-to-one down to 163rd-ranked Slovakian qualifier Lukas Klein in the second round.

Ten years after a Chinese woman won the Australian Open, another is making her mark

A Chinese woman is into the Australian Open semi-finals, a decade after Li Na’s historic title win at Melbourne Park.

China’s Zheng Qinwen will play in a grand slam semi-final for a first time.

China’s Zheng Qinwen will play in a grand slam semi-final for a first time.Credit: Eddie Jim

Emerging superstar Zheng Qinwen came from a set down to end Russian Anna Kalinskaya’s surprising run with a 6-7 (4-7), 6-3, 6-1 victory that guarantees she will become the only player from China other than Li to be ranked inside the singles top 10.

Zheng met Li, who is in Melbourne for her 2014 title anniversary, for the first time last weekend and is viewed as her heir apparent.

The world No.15 will take on hard-hitting Ukrainian qualifier Dayana Yastremska for the right to advance to Saturday night’s final against defending champion Aryna Sabalenka or US Open winner Coco Gauff.

“The first set was a big competition and the match was really tough for me, and I just told myself to stay focused and don’t think any more about the first set,” Zheng said.

“I’m so happy right now, and so excited. It’s the first time for me [to make it so far in a grand slam], so I’m really happy to be in the semi-finals, especially with such a good performance like this.”

Zheng’s first-serve percentage was south of 50 until midway through the second set, as she battled a wonky ball toss, with Kalinskaya compounding her problems with her best tennis of the match late in the first-set tiebreak.

But the match shifted dramatically in the eighth game of the second set, with Zheng grabbing the match-defining break off back-to-back Kalinskaya errors.

It was a procession from there, with the Chinese No.1 winning nine of the last 10 games of the contest. There was a period at the start of the final set when she rattled off 12 straight points to surge 3-1 ahead, with her double-handed backhand doing damage all night long.

Russia’s Anna Kalinskaya lost her quarter-final clash against China’s Zheng Qinwen.

Russia’s Anna Kalinskaya lost her quarter-final clash against China’s Zheng Qinwen.Credit: Eddie Jim

The numbers told the story: Kalinskaya had 10 winners in the first set but only nine more across the next two sets, while Zheng finished with 42 winners, including 28 in sets two and three against only 17 unforced errors.

Zheng, who ranked 15th with a bullet on Forbes’ list last year of the world’s highest-paid female athletes, won the WTA’s most improved player award in 2023, after being named the 2022 newcomer of the year.

She slashed her ranking from 143 at the end of 2021 to No.25 12 months later before reaching her current ranking of 15. This latest win propels Zheng to No.10 in the live WTA rankings, and she will be as high as No.6 if she wins the Australian Open title.

“It’s good news for me, another motivation, and especially [after] I say last year, when I was in Australian Open, I wanted to be top 10 and one year later, I’m here,” she said. “That was an amazing moment.”

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