By Martyn Herman
PARIS (Reuters) – Alexander Zverev could not hide his frustration after injury left him at the mercy of Austrian Dominic Thiem on Tuesday in his first Grand Slam quarter-final at Roland Garros.
The 21-year-old world number three had battled through three consecutive five-setters on his way to the last eight, but his body failed him against claycourt specialist Thiem.
After six opening games were shared, seventh seed Thiem ran away with a 6-4 6-2 6-1 victory to reach his third consecutive French Open semi-final.
Zverev needed treatment on his left hamstring in the second set and was clearly hampered as his close friend Thiem put him through the wringer with his trademark groundstrokes.
“First time I felt a pull was in the fourth game of the first set, when we had a few great points, a lot of physical points,” Zverev, who had beaten Thiem on clay in the Madrid Masters final last month, told reporters.
“I remember I slid one time, and then I felt a muscle pull. I thought maybe it’s just soreness or something that would just go away. I didn’t think about it too much.
“Then, you know, each game and each slide, I was getting worse and worse. Middle of the second set, the pain was too much.
“I knew I’m not going to win the match. There was no way for me. I could barely move. I couldn’t serve. I couldn’t really do anything.
“I can last very long. I can last five-set matches in a row, how I showed. Unfortunately, an injury held me back.”
Zverev refused to blame his injury on the near 11 hours he had spent on court in his last three rounds against Dusan Lajovic, Damir Dzumhur and Karen Khachanov, each of whom he had beaten after trailing by two sets to one.
“Actually I felt good today. I mean, waking up in the morning, I actually felt I can play five sets again,” he said.
“I thought this is what it’s going to be like. I actually came on court. It was the best I felt the ball. First few games, it was the best I felt the ball all week.”
It was a disappointing end to Zverev’s tournament, but at least he leaves Paris having got rid of a couple of statistics that were hanging over his head.
His victory over 26th seed Dzumhur was his first in a Grand Slam against a player ranked in the top 40 and his win over Russian youngster Khachanov meant he finally reached the last eight of a major at the 12th attempt.
Small strides maybe for a man tipped as Grand Slam champion but significant ones in his tennis journey.
“It showed I’m physically one of the strongest players,” he said. “I can last very long. I can last five-set matches in a row, how I showed. Unfortunately an injury held me back.
“This is a very positive week for me. My first quarter. I lost to a great player. I was hurt a little bit. So who knows? Who knows what could have happened?”
Zverev could even raise a smile when a reporter from Yorkshire in England – whose accent he found so amusing in a good-humoured exchange earlier in the week went viral on the internet – told him he had written a poem in his honour.
“The press conference after the second round was my favourite moment,” he laughed. “I heard the Queen of England heard it. That’s impressive. I think you’re the only person who will actually make me smile right now.”
(Reporting by Martyn Herman, editing by Larry King)