Alexander Zverev is just a win away from equalling his career-best performance at Wimbledon, and the fourth seed looks, on paper, like he should walk through to the last 16 relatively easily against world #138 Ernests Gulbis. Gulbis, however, is an experienced veteran and has been ranked as high as 10th in the world and is a former French Open semifinalist. The Latvian, having qualified into the main draw, is also in good form. Who will come out on top?
Gulbis and Zverev have never met competitively on Tour. Despite his lower ranking, Gulbis is actually the more experienced of the two; he made a quarterfinal at Roland Garros in 2008, and the semifinals at the same event in 2014 (lost to Djokovic). The latter of these efforts is something Zverev has not yet been able to achieve, with the German’s best effort at a Grand Slam coming at the French Open this year, when he made the quarterfinals.
Path to the third round
Zverev has had a couple of very contrasting matches so far at this year’s Wimbledon. He advanced through the first round with ease, beating Australian James Duckworth 7-5 6-2 6-0. Following that, however, he had a big scare against world #60 Taylor Fritz, who was at one stage beating the fourth seed two sets to one. Zverev was saved by the growing darkness, however, and returned the next day to run out a 6-4 5-7 6-7 6-1 6-2 winner.
Gulbis has clocked up some serious miles in his first two matches, both of which went the distance. In his first, he faced British wildcard Jay Clarke, ranked 218th in the world, and beat the teenager from Derby in five sets to eventually win 4-6 6-3 7-6 3-6 6-4. His second round outing followed a similar trend against the 27th seed and Antalya Open champion, Damir Dzumhur. In another gruelling match, Gulbis got over the line with a 2-6 6-4 6-3 1-6 6-3 victory.
How do they match up?
Both of these players like to dominate from the baseline, so expect a match with plenty of winners and also likely a fair number of unforced errors. Zverev’s strength is his two-handed backhand, which is one of the best in the game, and the German will look to strike it cross-court with power to break down the Gulbis backhand. That will be more easily said than done, however, with Gulbis also favouring his backhand.
Neither man is as comfortable on his forehand side, but Zverev is certainly the better equipped of the two in this department. The Gulbis forehand has long been an awkward shot, and it is one the Latvian will have to manage if he wishes to advance. Both players have strong serves, but Zverev again has an advantage, having the better second serve. Where Gulbis often over-presses and has a tendency to commit double faults, Zverev employs a consistent yet powerful second serve.
Sets will be tough to come by, with both players likely to be difficult to break. The two men employ similar styles, with Zverev essentially a more reliable version of his opponent in this match up. He’ll be able to force Gulbis into errors, and that will prove crucial for his chances. Expect the German to make it through to the fourth round at Wimbledon for the second time in his career in four hard-fought sets.