Alexander Zverev is among the youngsters being promoted as “Next Generation” stars by the men’s tennis tour. But Zverev isn’t waiting for his turn: He’s establishing himself now.
The 18-year-old German advanced to the third round of the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells with a gritty 6-4, 3-6, 7-5 victory over No. 23 seed Grigor Dimitrov of Bulgaria on Sunday, earning gasps for his 13 aces and applause for rebounding in the third set after Dimitrov had broken him in the first game and had built a 3-1 lead. Ranked 58th in the world, Zverev accelerated a run that included a victory over No. 13 Marin Cilic last month in reaching the semifinals at Montpellier, France.
Of the six “Next Generation” teenagers in the main draw, only Zverev and Borna Coric of Croatia remain. It’s intriguing Zverev took that step by beating Dimitrov, once considered a “young gun.” Dimitrov, 24, peaked at No. 8 in August 2014 and is ranked 26th.
Dmitrov’s experience seemed to give him an edge early in the third set, but Zverev regrouped and broke back to pull even at 3-3. Zverev served two aces to take a 6-5 lead and won on his second match point.
“I try to stay as calm as I can,” said Zverev, who next plays Gilles Simon of France, a 1-6, 6-0, 6-1 winner over Vasek Pospisil of Canada. “Grigor played well for an hour or so, middle of the second set until middle of the third. He didn’t give me many chances, but I knew I would get my opportunities. And, you know, I used them well.”
Imagine what he might do when he adds muscle to his 6-foot-6, 190-pound frame to better compete with older, stronger rivals.
“Playing on a daily basis with those kind of guys, with the big guys, you have to be really, really strong,” said Zverev, who was scheduled to play doubles until partner Nick Kyrgios withdrew because of an illness. “That’s probably one of the biggest parts for us young players.”
No. 4 seed Rafael Nadal, playing in the chilly evening session, was pushed by unseeded Gilles Muller of Luxembourg but won, 6-2, 2-6, 6-4. Nadal said the cold and wind made for difficult shot-making and tough serving, and said he was grateful he managed to prevail, especially in a match that went to the limit. The format in this tournament is best-of-three for both men and women.
“I’m very happy for the victory. The last three matches I lost have been three sets or five sets. I needed a victory like this,” he said.
“It was a great victory for me but I need to play better against [fellow Spaniard Fernando] Verdasco. He beat me in Australia.”
No. 5 Kei Nishikori of Japan advanced to the third round with a 6-3, 6-3 victory over Mikhail Kukushkin of Kazakhstan. No. 7 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga defeated French countryman Vincent Millot, 7-5, 6-1, and No. 11 Dominic Thiem of Austria defeated Jozef Kovalik of Slovakia, 7-6 (4), 7-6 (3). Four seeded American men advanced: No. 9 John Isner, No. 21 Jack Sock, No. 30 Steve Johnson and No. 31 Sam Querrey, but unseeded Denis Kudla fell to Germany’s Philipp Kohlschreiber, 6-0, 6-1. On the women’s side, Agnieszka Radwanska of Poland defeated Monica Niculescu of Romania, 6-2, 6-1, and No. 8 Petra Kvitova defeated Johanna Larsson of Sweden, 6-3, 4-6, 7-5. In the final match of the day, No. 5 seed and defending tournament champion Simona Halep defeated No. 30 Ekaterina Makarova of Russia, 6-2, 6-4.