In an all-German battle, world #4 Alexander Zverev takes on his veteran countryman Philipp Kohlschreiber for a place in the fourth round at the US Open. Zverev, who is making his debut in the third round in New York, has hired former-world #1 Ivan Lendl, who coached Andy Murray to three Grand Slam titles, to turn him into a Major contender and thus far the results have been positive. But he could face a stern test against Kohlschreiber. Who will come out on top?
Zverev and Kohlschreiber have met four-times in a head-to-head that is tied at two wins apiece. Kohlschreiber won the first two, both in 2015, in Munich, 6-2 6-4, and at the US Open, 6-7 6-2 6-0 2-6 6-4. But Zverev has claimed victory in their most recent encounters. His first came in the second round on the grass courts at the Halle Open where he won 6-3 6-4. He then bested Kohlschreiber earlier this year in the final in Munich, 6-3 6-3, to win his second-straight title in southern Germany.
Path to the third round
Zverev, who has often made slow starts at the Slams to his detriment, has thus far looked extremely impressive. He began his tournament by crushing Canada’s Peter Polansky 6-2 6-1 6-2 in his first competitive outing under the tutelage of Lendl. That win set up a clash with Nicolas Mahut, a three-time Grand Slam champion in doubles, in the second round. Zverev delivered another fine performance to race to a 6-4 6-4 6-2 victory and into the third round.
Kohlschreiber’s passage into the round of 32 has not been quite as serene. His first test came against his compatriot Yannick Hanfmann who was making his US Open debut. They split the opening two sets, with Kohlschreiber winning the first and Hanfmann the second. But Kohlschreiber managed to see off the 26-year-old’s challenge to win through 7-6 5-7 6-4 6-4. He then rallied from a set down to oust Matthew Ebden 6-7 6-3 6-2 6-0.
How do they match up?
Zverev seems certain to do the majority of the attacking in this match. He is amongst the most powerful players on the Tour, which is some achievement in this era. His best shot is his backhand which he has used to devastating effect so far. But his forehand has also been firing and the result has been a fearsome barrage, with him thundering 37 winners past Polansky and an even more impressive 43 against Mahut. And ominously, he made just 15 unforced errors against the Frenchman.
He has also hit 20 aces so far and won four out of every five points behind his first serve. That is an offensive output that is far beyond Kohlschreiber’s ability to match. But the 34-year-old is an excellent competitor and will not give up much. He also covers the court well and will make Zverev work hard to hit through him. But, Kohlschreiber can become rather predictable at times, and he will have to work hard to avoid giving Zverev too much rhythm. Otherwise the match will be as good as over.
It is hard to see how Kohlschreiber can win this match. One can take for granted that he will put in a good shift and keep errors to a minimum. But Zverev has been crushing the ball all week and Kohlschreiber does not have any obvious answers to that power. He certainly did not provide any in Munich earlier this year where he was well-beaten. Unless Zverev collapses mentally, which he has not looked like doing so far, he should win this match comfortably.