Alexander Zverev will not leave Australia with his maiden Grand Slam title, but the 22-year-old German does seem to have nailed the right mindset for how to make deep runs at major championships.
Despite the loss, the run represents a major breakthrough for Zverev. Before this fortnight, he had reached two Roland Garros quarter-finals (2018, 2019), but never past the fourth round at any other Grand Slam.
In the past, Zverev said he would get caught looking too far ahead at majors. But this Australian Open, he has taken seriously the often-repeated “one-match-at-a-time” philosophy.
“I went here in a different way. I went match by match. Didn’t look very far. I just knew I had opponents in front of me. I had to play well to beat them. That was it.
“Whenever I won, I’d sit down in the locker room and somebody told me who I’m playing next,” Zverev said. “I went step by step, match by match. Usually I [haven’t done] that in Grand Slams.”
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En route to the quarter-finals, Zverev didn’t drop a set in beating 2018 Roland Garros semi-finalist Marco Cecchinato of Italy, Egor Gerasimov of Belarus, Spanish veteran Fernando Verdasco and Russian Andrey Rublev, who was 11-0 in 2020 before their fourth-round matchup.
Zverev overcame a slow start in the quarter-finals to beat three-time major champion Stan Wawrinka, setting his semi-final against Thiem.
“I started playing really well I thought against Verdasco. I thought the first two matches I didn’t play great. Got through them somehow, which was good. [In] the Verdasco, Rublev match I thought I started playing really well. From then on I played great tennis,” Zverev said.
He fell to 2-7 against Thiem in their ATP Head2Head series. Zverev converted 36 per cent (5/14) of his break points.
“I had a lot of chances. I had 14 break points. That should be plenty. In the important moments, I didn’t play my best. He did. That’s where the match kind of went his way,” he said. “We’ve had a lot of tight moments, four tight sets. In the third set, I had set points. In the fourth set, I had chances.
“Just got to execute better next time. But credit to him. He’s playing unbelievable tennis right now.”
Zverev will remain at No. 7 in the FedEx ATP Rankings, but moves closer to passing No. 6 Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece. Despite feeling disappointed about the loss, Zverev credited Thiem for his best run at the Australian Open yet.
“I was nervous in the beginning. I think that’s normal. At the end of the day, as I said, it was a great match. He played some very high-level tennis. He was the best opponent I played this week. Credit to him. He deserves to be in the final,” Zverev said.
“I think we had some amazing rallies. But it was not like a low-level match where you could see we’re nervous or something like that. I think he has a chance in the finals, though, if he’s physically fine. He did play a lot of long matches. But we’ll see.”
Zverev had promised to donate all AU $4.12 million in prize money to Australian bushfire relief efforts if he had won his first Grand Slam title in Melbourne. But he still will donate AU $50,000 – $10,000 for each win – to the cause.
“The Australian crowd is always very nice to me. I love playing here. They know I love playing here. I always feel welcomed here. That was great,” Zverev said. “Unfortunately, I could not make it happen with all the prize money. As I said, I will keep my promise. I will donate the $50,000 and hope that can help a little bit.”