ATP Young Gun Alexander Zverev saved a pair of match points to overcome second-seeded Gilles Simon in three sets on Thursday at the Open de Nice Cote d’Azur.
It was Zverev’s third consecutive win over Simon this year, as he previously beat him in Rotterdam and Indian Wells. Despite the 31-year-old being ranked significantly higher than his opponent, it’s evident that Zverev’s height and accompanying power is too much for Simon’s counterpunching style.
Make no mistake, Simon isn’t short by any standards. He’s 6-foot-0 but his strokes are average strength. His serve and groundstrokes lack any notable power, but his consistency and ability to construct thoughtful points is what has made him such a mainstay within the Top 20. Simon is able to utilize his opponent’s power to stay in rallies, but he’s very one dimensional, which can leave him exposed to those like Zverev who have more variety in their game.
Zverev utilized drop shots and slices throughout the match, which are extremely effective on clay. Also, his billowing 6-foot-6 frame helps him capture easy points on his serve. Despite facing 10 break points, the world No. 48 saved eight of those, which also shows immaculate mental strength for such a young player.
The arena could have also played a part in Simon’s lackluster performance. French players are notorious for playing poorly in France, and Simon is no exception to this rule particularly in 2016. He’s lost both of his first round matches in Montpellier and Marseille to opponents significantly ranked below him (No. 117 Dustin Brown and No. 80 Teymuraz Gabashvilli, respectively.) His best appearance in 2016 in France was in Monaco where he made it made it to the quarterfinals before being blown out by Stan Wawrinka 6-1, 6-2. Hopefully, he can do a little better at the French Open.
The German will face Joao Sousa in his third ATP World Tour semifinal. Zverev and Sousa have both played two three-set matches thus far, so neither player will be at its peak level of fitness.
It’s risky to play a tournament right before a Grand Slam, especially if you’re a player that has the potential to make it to Week 2. Players run the risk of suffering more fatigue than necessary going into the Grand Slam grind by playing tournaments immediately prior. But, to those like Zverev who are looking to break through and start making money instead of simply breaking even, he must play as much as possible to rack up ranking points.
However, this is a dangerous time to be pushing one’s body to the limit, considering this is the most physically demanding chunk of the season. After the French Open, there’s less than a month break before Wimbledon, and then there’s the Olympics this year too. I’d like to hear how Zverev’s body is holding up at the end of this European swing…
It’ll be the first time Zverev faces Sousa, which presents some challenges of its own. It’s always tough facing an opponent you’ve never played before, because you have no idea what to expect or what kind of ball you’ll be receiving from them. Add that with the extra pressure of it being the semifinals, I’m sure it’ll make for an interesting match. First serve is set for after 2:30 p.m. CET on Friday.