World #4 Alexander Zverev, the man who would be king, begins his second US Open campaign as a serious title contender against Canada’s Peter Polansky. Zverev has three-times won a Masters 1000 event, but has reached just one Grand Slam quarterfinal. Polansky, who has won only one Grand Slam match in his life, completed a notable feat himself just by making the draw, as he did so as a lucky loser for the fourth time at a Major this year. But who will reach the second round?
Zverev and Polansky have never met at Tour-level, but they did encounter one another four years ago at a Challenger in Irving, Texas in the second round of qualifying. Polansky won that match against the teenaged Zverev, rallying from a set down to win 1-6 7-6 6-4. But history is not entirely on Polansky’s side. The Canadian has won only 19 matches at Tour-level, and just one at a Major. Zverev already has 160 at Tour-level and 20 at the Majors.
Last time out
Zverev, after a disappointing third-round exit at Wimbledon to Ernests Gulbis, began his hard court campaign well with a successful title-defence in Washington where he defeated the young Alex De Minaur in the final. But he could not repeat the feat in Toronto, where he was also defending champion, losing in the quarterfinals to Stefanos Tsitsipas. He then lost his first match in Cincinnati, the first time he had taken back-to-back defeats since early June.
Polansky could not take advantage of his luck at Wimbledon, losing in the first round to Denis Novak in straight sets. He then played three Challengers, including in Granby where he won the title, before returning to Tour-level action in Los Cabos where he lost in the second round. He followed that with a good win in Toronto over Matthew Ebden but defeat to Djokovic in the second round. He then played at the Challenger in Vancouver last week and reached the second round.
How do they match up?
Zverev has never had many problems getting after the ball. His groundstrokes tend to be hammered over the net with as much force as he can muster, particularly on the backhand-side. His serve too provides a potent weapon, albeit an unreliable one. But questions over his ability to stay disciplined remain. It is surely to address them that he has brought Ivan Lendl on board, with the former world #1 having previously enjoyed a fruitful relationship with Andy Murray.
One fears that ill-discipline is more likely to hurt Zverev than Polansky is. The Canadian is admirably consistent from the back of the court and will give little away. He also covers the court well. But he has no real weapons to match Zverev’s. And he showed in his doomed attempts to hit through Djokovic in Toronto that when he attempts to inject pace into his shots, his margin for error decreases precipitously. But he may have to take such risks against Zverev.
The reality of this contest is that Zverev is simply a cut above Polansky. A gulf exists between them that no amount of grit and determination on Polansky’s part will bridge. That does not mean the victory is already Zverev’s, but it does mean that the match lies on his racquet. Expect him to take full advantage. The title may well be beyond him this fortnight, but Polansky won’t be. Zverev will take his place in the second round with a straight sets win.