World #4 Alexander Zverev will continue his quest for a maiden Grand Slam title when he takes on the veteran Frenchman Nicolas Mahut. Zverev has now won three Masters titles, but has reached the second week at a Major just once. He has hired Ivan Lendl, a former-world #1 and the man who coached Andy Murray to three Grand Slams, to rectify that. But Mahut is always a tricky opponent and has some big wins to his name. Who will come out on top?
Zverev and Mahut have met just once and perhaps surprisingly it is the Frenchman who got the win. That match came last year in Marseille in the first round and it was exceedingly tight. But Mahut just edged out Zverev, 7-6 7-6. He also has a better record at the US Open, although he is playing his 13th, having reached the third round on two occasions. Zverev, in contrast, has never been beyond the second round despite being the fourth seed last year, but is playing only his fourth US Open.
Path to the second round
The fourth seed again this year, Zverev began his US Open campaign against Peter Polansky. Polansky achieved the remarkable achievement of gaining entry to all four Majors this year as a lucky loser, to become the first man to complete the ‘Lucky Loser Slam’. But his luck ran out against Zverev, who crushed him. Polansky never managed to find an answer for Zverev’s power and the German hardly broke into a sweat, despite the sweltering heat, in winning 6-2 6-1 6-2.
Mahut’s US Open began in the qualifying. He opened his bid for a place in the main draw with a comfortable win over Zdenek Kolar of the Czech Republic before rallying from a set down to best Norbert Gombos 4-6 6-3 6-0. In the final round of qualifying he lost to Tommy Robredo in three, but received a place in the main draw when Jiri Vesely withdrew. He took full advantage of his good fortune with a 6-2 7-5 4-6 7-5 win over his teenaged countryman Corentin Moutet.
How do they match up?
It may be assumed that the majority of Lendl’s work with Zverev will be on his mentality rather than the fundamentals of his game. For he is already one of the most powerful players on Tour. The centrepiece of his arsenal is his two-handed backhand, which though short of the versatility possessed by Djokovic, Murray and Nishikori on that wing, is struck fearsomely hard. He can club his forehand as well, but it lacks the stability and reliability of his backhand.
Polansky was content to engage Zverev in a baseline battle and allowed the German far too much rhythm as a result, but do not expect Mahut to make the same mistake. He is at his most effective when playing in the forecourt, and has three Grand Slam titles in doubles to prove it. He will likely try to rush the net as often as he can against Zverev, and use his slice to keep the ball low. That will at least avoid playing into his opponent’s hands as Polansky did.
Zverev is unlikely to find this contest with Mahut a particularly enjoyable one. The Frenchman excels at keeping his opponents off balance and spends far more time at the net than the majority of players on the singles Tour. Trying to beat him will be a test of Zverev’s concentration as much as his tennis ability. But it is one he should be able to pass. Lendl won’t turn him into a Major champion overnight, but he and Zverev’s growing maturity will help. Zverev in four.