VIENNA/WASHINGTON, October 23, 2023 (by Michael Dickens)
Alexander Zverev is among a quartet of stars along with Andrey Rublev, Stefanos Tsitsipas and Tommy Paul in this year’s high-quality field at the Erste Bank Open in Vienna, who are still alive for one of the last four berths in the Pepperstone ATP Race To Turin. This week, they are chasing after the 500-point top prize as well as first-prize money of €450,650 that will be awarded to the winner of the 49th edition of the popular, late-season ATP 500 indoor hard-court event at Wiener Stadthalle next Sunday.
While Zverev was unable to defend his 2021 Vienna title due to a severe ankle injury, the World No.10 from Germany is back in the Austrian capital city looking healthy and feeling hungry. Although he came in sporting a three-match losing streak for the first time this season, last month he won a hard-court title at Chengdu, China, to go with an earlier title win this season in Hamburg, and followed it up with a semifinal run at the Beijing Open. Arriving in Vienna with a 49-24 overall this season, Zverev has won two titles and is in seventh place in the Race To Turin standings that decides who will compete in next month’s Nitto ATP Finals.
“I’m playing good tennis and I’m winning tournaments again which is the most important thing,” the 26-year-old Zverev told the ATP Tour Podcast recently while competing in China. “I’m a contender. That’s something I missed at the beginning of the year, when I didn’t feel like I was. I’m back to the same mentality of winning tournaments and the same mentality of trying to be one of the best.”
— Erste Bank Open (@ErsteBankOpen) October 23, 2023
On Monday, seeking his 50th victory of the season, the fifth-seeded Zverev played his first match in Vienna in two years against 44th-ranked Austrian wild card Sebastian Ofner, in a match-up of the current top players from Germany and Austria. In their third career meeting, it was all Zverev, winning 6-4, 6-1 in 78 minutes. He won 10 of the final 12 games and prevailed on his first match point opportunity with a solid drop-volley winner coming in at the net that capped a sizzling eight-shot rally.
Zverev, who faced no break points, hit 18 winners and made 16 unforced errors. He won 88 percent of his first-serve points and dropped just eight points overall to Ofner in the final set after jumping out to a double-break lead.
— Tennis TV (@TennisTV) October 23, 2023
During a post-match interview with ATPTour.com, Zverev said: “Obviously I’m happy to be back to winning ways after the past two weeks, which were not very positive for me. In general I’m happy to be back in Europe, happy to be back in a German-speaking country. I think you always feel comfortable here straight away.”
Next, Zverev will face No. 18 Cameron Norrie of Great Britain, who went the distance to beat 169th-ranked Austrian qualifier Filip Misolic, 7-6 (2), 4-6, 6-3, in the second round.
“I think for me it’s just being healthy,” Zverev said. “I think at the beginning of the year I was still managing pain; I was still dealing with pain. I was not moving the way I wanted to move, I was not sliding around the court, if you look back at the matches that I played. It was more that for me.
“If you want to be competitive at this sport you have to be 100 per cent healthy, you need to be moving the way you want to on the tennis court. For me to be able to do that, I need to be pain-free.”
Elsewhere on Opening Day of the main draw:
No. 31 Jiri Lehecka of the Czech Republic garnered his 30th tour-level win on hard courts this season and became the first main-draw winner with a 6-4, 6-4 win over No. 51 J.J. Wolf of the United States, in an hour and 24 minutes. Lehecka hit six aces and struck 25 winners against Wolf, who dropped to 10-16 against Top 50 opponents.
Next, Lehecka will play No. 8 seed Karen Khachanov, who improved to 5-2 in opening rounds at Vienna. The World No. 16 defeated fellow Russian Roman Safiullin, 6-4, 6-4, in one hour and 35 minutes. Khachanov hit 21 winners and saved the only break point he faced from the 41st-ranked Safiullin, who was seeking just his second career win at ATP 500 level and first since 2020.
Also, No. 46 Matteo Arnaldi of Italy advanced to the second round with a 7-6 (4), 7-6 (2) win over 93rd-ranked Spanish qualifier Alberto Ramos-Vinolas in two hours and 15 minutes for his 50th win of the season in all competitions. Next, he will oppose either World No. 5 and third seed Andrey Rublev of Russia or No. 39 Alexei Popyrin of Australia, who play on Tuesday.
Around the Erste Open
Last year’s champion Daniil Medvedev will aim to successfully defend an ATP Tour title for the first time in his career. He begins his title defense against European Open finalist Arthur Fils of France. Gaël Monfils, who won his first ATP Tour singles title in 21 months and is inside the Top 100, will aim to extend his five-match winning streak versus Daniel Altmaier in his opening round.
Also, both Tokyo champion Ben Shelton and finalist Aslan Karatsev are in the Vienna field and will play their first matches on Wednesday. Shelton faces No. 2 seed Jannik Sinner in his opening round for a rematch of their recent Shanghai fourth-round clash.
Meanwhile, each of the last four Erste Bank champions – Medvedev, Alexander Zverev, Andrey Rublev and Dominic Thiem – are on hand. Thiem received a wild card into the main draw and leads three Austrians in the 32-player field, along with wild card Sebastian Ofner and qualifier Filip Misolic. Thiem will be featured on Thiemsday Tuesday evening against Stefanos Tsitsipas on Center Court at Wiener Stadthalle.
By the numbers
Recent Stockholm champion Gaël Monfils is the oldest player in the tournament draw at age 37, while fellow Frenchman Arthur Fils, who finished runner up at Antwerp, is the youngest at age 19. … The United States has the most players in this year’s 32-player draw with five: Mackenzie McDonald, Tommy Paul, Ben Shelton, Frances Tiafoe, and J.J. Wolf.
“If I make Turin, if I come back after such an injury and not playing for seven months when I was really uncertain if I was ever going to come back to the level that I was… If I come back and I’m one of the best eight players in the world, it’s a great achievement, there’s no question about it. It’s a comeback year to remember, that’s for sure.”
– Alexander Zverev of Germany, as told to ATP Tennis Radio over the weekend.