Late Night Finish In Acapulco Rewards Defending Champ Zverev

Alexander Zverev and Jenson Brooksby (photo: ATP Tour video)

ACAPULCO/WASHINGTON, February 22, 2022 (by Michael Dickens)

The ATP Tour has returned to Mexico with a big splash – and all-night tennis, too!

The Abierto Mexicano Telcel presentado por HSBC, an ATP 500 outdoor hard-court event in its 29th edition in Acapulco, is taking place at a new venue. The Arena GNP Seguros includes six courts and a stadium with seating for more than 10,000 fans. Certainly, tennis fans got their money’s worth on opening night with three straight three-hours-plus matches on Estadio.

On Monday night – and into early Tuesday morning – as the tournament’s main draw unfolded under clear skies and 84-degree Fahrenheit temperatures, it boasted 11 of the Top 25 players in the ATP rankings and four of the Top 5: No. 2 Daniil Medvedev; No. 3 Alexander Zverev, the defending champion; No. 4 Stefanos Tsitsipas, last year’s finalist; and No. 5 Rafael Nadal, the three-time (2005, 2013, 2020) champion of the event.

While World No. 1 Novak Djokovic is finally beginning his 2022 season in Dubai this week 10 time zones away, the best of the rest is in Acapulco, a beach resort town on Mexico’s Pacific coast that is set on a large bay backed by high-rises and the Sierra Madre del Sur mountains. It’s a tournament characterized by it’s evening and night-time tennis to combat the warm daytime temperatures.

Monday evening’s opening night featured seven matches, none bigger than No. 2 seed Zverev against No. 47 Jenson Brooksby, who two weeks ago was a finalist at the Dallas Open. Zverev came in leading the head-to-head series 1-0 and after it was over – not until 4:55 a.m. local time after three hours and 20 minutes – the German prevailed with a come-from-behind 3-6, 7-6 (10), 6-2 victory.

The second set alone lasted an hour and 52 minutes. Brooksby had match points during the second set tie-break at 6-5 and 10-9 and wasn’t able to convert either of them. Instead, Zverev won the last three points of the tie-break and went on to break Brooksby twice in the final set, in the third and seventh games, and closed out the victory on his first match point opportunity. The two tired but proud combatants shook hands at the net and as Zverev awaited his post-match interview, Brooksby received a standing ovation as he left the court.

“Right now I’m happy that I won,” a tired but relieved Zverev said. “I don’t know how Jenson feels, but it must be difficult. I’m happy to be a part of history. It was an incredible battle, I think it was an incredible match, and hopefully [there are] many more to come from me this week.

“Today I didn’t play my best, there’s no doubt about it, but I didn’t give up. I knew that I want to do well, I’m the defending champion and I want to give myself the best chance to win. I did well to survive today.”

Zverev is back playing Acapulco for the fifth straight year and, for the first time, as the defending champion. Last year, he didn’t drop a set en route to winning the Acapulco title. This year, he’s already dropped a set and was nearly eliminated in the opening round. He finished the match against Brooksby with nine aces, won 77 percent (55 of 71) of his first-serve points, and saved six of the seven break points he faced. He broke Brooksby twice in five tries. Points were even at 109 for each player.

Certainly, Zverev and Brooksby aren’t likely to forget their first-round match any time soon. The match’s finish time of 4:55 a.m. makes it the latest finish time to an ATP Tour match, surpassing the 2008 Australian Open battle between Lleyton Hewitt and Marcos Baghdatis, which ended at 4:34 a.m. local time.

Next, Zverev will play 95th-ranked lucky loser Peter Gojowczyk of Germany, who upset No. 75 Brandon Nakashima of the United States, 6-4, 6-4, in an hour and 28 minutes. Gojowczyk broke Nakashima four times and outpointed his opponent 68-64.

Around the Abierto Mexicano Telcel

• No. 7 seed Taylor Fritz of the United States, ranked 16th, became the first to advance to the second round with a straightforward 6-3, 6-3 win over No. 55 Adrian Mannarino of France in an hour and 31 minutes. The American No. 1 hit five aces and won 83 percent of his first-serve points. He converted three of nine break points and saved all four break points he faced. They came during a 22-point ninth game in the first set, in which Fritz finally put away the opening set on his fifth opportunity. Fritz outpointed Mannarino 77-57. Next, he will play either 114th-ranked wild card Feliciano Lopez of Spain or 103rd-ranked qualifier Yoshihito Nishioka of Japan.

• No. 23 John Isner closed out his 7-5, 6-7 (4), 7-6 (3) match with 152nd-ranked Spanish wild card Fernando Verdasco with his 29th ace. It was a fitting ending to an exciting three-hour and 13-minute match to open the evening on Estadio. Both players were solid throughout and there was just a difference of five points separating Isner (122) and Verdasco (117) by the end of the contest. Isner saved a match point at 2-5 (30-40) in the third set. He’s now 8-2 in his last 10 matches against lefthanders. Next, Isner will play the winner between No. 6 seed Cameron Norrie and 84th-ranked qualifer Daniel Altmaier.

• Lucky loser Stefan Kozlov of the United States went from practicing with 21-time Grand Slam champion Rafael Nafael to facing No. 33 Grigor Dimitrov of Bulgaria. The 130th-ranked Kozlov, a replacement for fellow American and No. 67 Maxime Cressy, overcame severe second-set cramps and beat Dimitrov, 7-6 (8), 5-7, 6-3, in three hours and 21 minutes.

“I just fought really hard and stayed focused at the end there,” Kozlov said in press after his victory. “Obviously, I had a chance to win in two sets and cramped up fully, and I had to give away a couple of games. But thankfully, I had a fighting spirit today and I just relied on it. I happened to play my best tennis towards the end.”

Next, Kozlov will face either Nadal or 100th-ranked lucky loser Denis Kudla of the United States in the second round.

• No. 46 Dusan Lajovic of Serbia pulled out a 6-4, 4-6, 7-5 victory over No. 40 Sebastian Korda of the United States. Korda served for the match at 5-3 in the third set but was broken by Lajovic, who also broke to go ahead 6-5 and closed it out on his serve. Next, Lajovic will face either No. 5 seed Matteo Berrettini of Italy or No. 39 Tommy Paul of the United States.

• No. 8 seed Pablo Carreño Busta of Spain, ranked 17th, beat 82nd-ranked qualifier Oscar Otte of Germany, 6-2, 6-4 in his Acapulco debut by saving three break points and converting three of his own. Next, he will face either No. 80  John Millman of Australia or No. 59 Marcos Giron of the United States.

Monday’s Acapulco results

Tuesday’s Acapulco order of play

By the numbers

Rafael Nadal owns a 20-2 win-loss record in Acapulco. He takes on lucky loser Denis Kudla in his opening match. Nadal is in the upper half of the draw and could face No. 1 seed Daniil Medvedev in the semifinals.

Daniil Medvedev makes his Acapulco debut Tuesday against Benoit Paire with a great opportunity of becoming the first player since 2004 not named Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer or Andy Murray to become World No. 1 when the ATP rankings are updated on February 28.

While Medvedev trails Djokovic by 440 rankings points, Djokovic will drop 500 points next week from his 2020 Dubai title.

Here’s how Medvedev can become the new World No. 1:

• Medvedev wins the Acapulco title, or

• Medvedev reaches the Acapulco final and Djokovic does not win the Dubai title, or

• Medvedev reaches the Acapulco SF and Djokovic does not reach the Dubai final, or

• Medvedev reaches the Acapulco second round or QF and Djokovic does not reach the Dubai SF, or

• Medvedev loses in the Acapulco first round and Djokovic does not reach the Dubai QF

“Quotable …”

“In Latin America, I have always felt support. Acapulco is no exception. I feel the affection of the people and I thank the Mexican people for the welcome they give me when I play here. I like to be here.”

Rafael Nadal of Spain, three-time Acapulco champion, on why he enjoys playing in Latin America.

“Today I was totally expecting not to be playing. Now, I’ve got the biggest win of my career and I’m about to play Rafa Nadal.

“I was practicing with him today at six o’clock and then I saw my messages. I think he’s just a fantastic human being. I just have so much respect and I can’t wait to put on a show with him.”

– Lucky loser Stefan Kozlov of the United States, who was a late replacement in the main draw and won his match to advance to the second round, where his likely opponent will be Rafael Nadal.