(Photo credit: REUTERS/Michael Dalder)
In an all-German clash, top seed and world #3 Alexander Zverev stands just one match away from successfully defending his Munich title. Hoping to dethrone him is another former champion, Philipp Kohlschreiber, who has three times been crowned champion in Munich, most recently in 2016. For Zverev victory would cap off what has been an encouraging few weeks for him, whilst for Kohlschreiber it would maintain his streak of having won at least one title every year since 2014. But who will come out on top?
Zverev and Kohlschreiber have played on three previous occasions, and it is the older man who leads the head-to-head two matches to one. The first of those matches also came in Munich, in 2015, though they clashed in the second round rather than the title match. Kohlschreiber won that one 6-2 6-4. He was again victorious when the pair clashed in the first round of the US Open later that year, winning in five sets 6-7 6-2 6-0 2-6 6-4. But Zverev had his revenge in the round of 16 in Halle last year, winning 6-3 6-4.
Path to the final
Zverev, the top seed in Munich, began his tournament in the second round after a bye in the first. It did not prove an ideal beginning as he dropped the first set after a 26 point tiebreak to his compatriot Yannick Hanfmann. But Zverev recovered to win in three. He was rather more comfortable against another of his countryman, Jan-Lennard Struff, who he also defeated two weeks ago at the Monte Carlo Masters. He then bested the fourth seeded Hyeon Chung 7-5 6-2 to return to the final in Bavaria.
Kohlschreiber, seeded sixth, started his tournament in the round of 32 against the big-serving veteran Ivo Karlovic. Kohlschreiber managed to get past the 39-year-old Croatian in straight sets, winning 6-4 7-5. He then brushed aside the challenge of the elder Zverev brother, Mischa, who is enduring a torrid season and managed just four games against Kohlschreiber in a 2-6 2-6 loss. That earned Kohlschreiber a match up with the second seed Roberto Bautista Agut.
The German delivered an impressive performance to oust his higher-ranked opponent in straight sets, advancing to his first semifinal since Vienna last year a 6-4 6-4 winner. There he faced off against fellow German Maximilien Marterer. The 22-year-old Marterer was looking to reach a first-ever Tour-level final and had scored an impressive straight sets win over the third seed, Diego Schwartzman, in the second round. But he was undone by Kohlschreiber in what proved to be a comfortable 6-2 6-4 win for the sixth seed.
How do they match up?
Zverev, at his best, is able to dominate from the baseline by imposing himself on rallies with his powerful groundstrokes. His backhand is his biggest strength, with the German comfortable striking his two-hander both down the line and cross court. His serve is also a potent weapon although he can struggle to maintain a high first serve percentage on some occasions. His forehand can also be broken down if put under enough pressure.
Kohlschreiber, who is eight inches shorter than Zverev, lacks his opponent’s easy power. But the elder man is, in many ways, the consummate clay court player. What he lacks in power he makes up for in versatility and, crucially, consistency. Kohlschreiber may hit few opponents off the court, but he makes himself difficult to beat and rarely hits a costly number of unforced errors. His serve can prove a vulnerability, however, particularly when he is forced to hit a large number of second serves.
Kohlschreiber is a difficult man to beat, but has himself struggled to defeat the biggest names in the sport throughout his career. Though he has one victory against Nadal on grass, and earlier this season defeated Cilic in Indian Wells, he has lost 90 of his 113 matches against top ten opposition. Zverev should make that 91 out of 114. Kohlschreiber’s consistent baseline play should allow the younger man to develop a good rhythm, and if that happens, there are few that can stay with him.