Biggest Indoor Triumph Lands Zhang In Marseille Quarterfinals

Zhang Zhizhen (photo: Open 13 Provence)

MARSEILLE /WASHINGTON, February 8, 2024 (by Michael Dickens)

China’s Zhang Zhizhen earned the biggest indoor victory of his career at the Open 13 Provence in Marseille Thursday afternoon – and there was nothing but delight on his face afterward.

The 50th-ranked Zhang, the first Chinese man to break into the Top 100, reached his sixth ATP Tour quarterfinal – and first on a hard court in two years – with his 6-4, 6-4 upset of seventh seed Felix Auger-Aliassime of Canada in an hour and 28 minutes in the Bouches du Rhône.

Throughout, Zhang, nicknamed Triple-Z because there are three Zs in his name, played aggressive tennis and raised his level of play. By the end of their first meeting, he prevented the 28th-ranked Auger-Aliassime from reaching his 46th tour-level quarterfinal and 16th on an indoor hard court.

“This was the first time we hit the ball [together],” Zhang, 27, said in his on-court interview. “I’ve never had a hit [with Felix] before.”

Although Auger-Aliassime made the final at Marseille in his last two appearances, losing to Stefanos Tsitsipas in 2020 and to Andrey Rublev in 2022, the Chinese No. 1 kept the Canadian off balance and out of rhythm. Zhang hit six aces, won 77 percent of his first-serve points, converted three of four break points and outpointed his opponent 66-52.

Next, Zhang (4-3) will oppose No. 3 seed Karen Khachanov of Russia in Friday’s quarterfinals. “I will do my best, let’s see,” Zhang said.

Defending champion Hurkacz begins defense of title

Defending Marseille champion and this year’s top seed Hubert Hurkacz made his long-awaited return a successful one Thursday evening. The World No. 8 from Poland began defense of his 2023 title with an impressive 6-1, 6-4 win over No. 56 Alexander Shevchenko of Kazakhstan that lasted just 65 minutes. The Australian Open quarterfinalist improved to 9-3 and will play No. 66 Tomas Machac of the Czech Republic in the quarterfinals.

Although Shevchenko erased a pair of match points to hold serve at 4-5 after Hurkacz easily won the opener 6-1, the Polish star struck his 13th ace of the second-round match to set up a third opportunity to win. Soon, he wrapped up the victory with a seventh-shot forehand winner that denied Shevchenko an opportunity to gain a second Top 10 victory.

Hurkacz won 81 percent of his first-set points and 72 percent of his serves overall, broke Shevchenko’s serve five times and outpointed him 66-39.

“I knew I had to be focused because Alexander is a really tough competitor,” Hurkacz said in his on-court interview. “I knew I had to be at the top of my game. I’m really happy with my performance today.”

Dimitrov beats Korda for ninth straight opening-round victory

No. 2 seed Grigor Dimitrov is 22-2 in opening rounds since the start of the 2023 season. On Thursday afternoon, the 32-year-old Bulgarian won his ninth straight opener with a 6-1, 7-6 (5) win over No. 34 Sebastian Korda of the United States. The win leveled their career head-to-head at 1-1.

The World No. 13 Dimitrov, in his fourth Marseille appearance, played solidly throughout the one-hour, 32-minute second-round match. He hit eight aces, won 81 percent of his first-serve points, converted three of six break points and outpointed the American 69-49.

“He’s always dangerous on any surface,” Dimitrov said in praise of Korda during his on-court interview. “We’ve practiced together many times, he’s a great guy above all. I knew it was going to be tricky, he’s very crafty. 

“I think the first set was amazing. Honestly, whatever I was touching was getting to the right place and in matches like that sometimes it is very difficult to maintain it throughout the two sets. 

“In the second he had one look, and he took it. The game he broke me, amazing returns and just amazing play overall. So he kind of took the ball away from my racquet, and I had to find a way to get back.”

Dimitrov’s latest win improved his 2024 record to 8-1, which includes his first tour-level title since 2017 at Brisbane last month.

On Friday, Dimitrov will face No. 94 Arthur Rinderknech of France, who fought off No. 8 seed Jiri Lehecka of the Czech Republic, 7-5, 7-6 (5), in an hour and 56 minutes Thursday evening. He won on his third match point after Lehecka hit a 12th-shot forehand return wide right.

Rinderknech, who finished with 10 aces and outpointed the 32nd-ranked Lehecka 78-72, is through to his 17th ATP Tour quarterfinal and first on French soil since 2022 at Metz.

Around the Palais de Sports

No. 5 seed Alejandro Davidovich Fokina of Spain fought past No. 55 Emil Ruusuvuori of Finland, 6-3, 7-5, in an hour and 36 minutes to win their second-round tussle. The 24th-ranked Spaniard won on his third match-point opportunity for his first win in three tries against Ruusuvuori. He outpointed the Finnish No. 1 78-66 to advance to Friday’s quarterfinal round against No. 4 seed Ugo Humbert of France.

No. 3 seeds Alexander Erler and Lucas Miedler of Austria advanced to the doubles semifinal round with a 6-2, 6-3 win over Bart Stevens of the Netherlands and Petros Tsitsipas of Greece. The Austrian pair won 81 percent of their service points and converted four of six break points during the 68-minute quarterfinal match.

Next, Erler and Miedler will play Patrik Nicklas-Salminen and Emil Ruusuvuori of Finland in the semifinal round after the Finnish duo beat Andreas Mies of Germany and John-Patrick Smith of Australia, 6-4, 6-4.

Meanwhile, No. 2 seeds Harri Heliovaara of Finland and John Peers of Australia were upset by Tomas Machac of the Czech Republic and Zhang Zhizhen of China, 6-4, 3-6, 10-6, in a quarterfinal round match.

On Saturday, Zhang and Machac will play Americans Sebastian Korda and Vasil Kirkov, who advanced over Sander Arends and Sem Verbeek of the Netherlands, 5-7, 6-3, 10-8.

Thursday’s Open 13 Provence results

Friday’s Open 13 Provence order of play

By the numbers

No. 1 seed Hubert Hurkacz is 10-1 when top-seeded at an ATP Tour event (including titles at Metz in 2021 and at Marseille last year). En route to winning Marseille last year, he saved a match point against Mikael Ymer in the quarterfinals.

“Quotable …”

“It’s a tournament that I love, I’m always happy to come back. This tournament has been around for years; there have been many big names who have won it. This also makes its reputation. It’s a special feeling when you play in France. There are a few tournaments I try not to miss them, to be able to play them. Indoor conditions suit me well.”

— No. 4 seed Ugo Humbert of France, earlier this week in his pre-tournament news conference, describing why he enjoys playing in the Open 13 Provence event.