Recent Montreal champion Alexander Zverev takes on American young gun Frances Tiafoe in the second round in Ohio. In a theme that has become increasingly common this season, two of the crop of rising stars face off. Indeed, both players are in the top 10 of the Race to Milan, although Zverev has a fairly substantial lead over Tiafoe and all the other contenders. They are also both comfortable on the hard courts of North America, so a fine match should await.
The two have met twice so far in their careers with Zverev winning both matches. These meetings came this year at Grand Slams, first at Melbourne Park and then at Wimbledon. Zverev took the meeting in Australia in straight sets 6-2 6-4 6-3 in the second round. When they met again in the second round in SW19, Zverev looked just as comfortable. He won in straight sets again, this time 6-3 6-4 6-3. Tiafoe looked outclassed in both matches and will be desperate to put in a more competitive performance on home soil.
Zverev, despite being only a year older than Tiafoe, has considerably more experience on tour than the American. Tiafoe’s success has come mostly at Challenger level, he has just six career wins at tour level. He has also, unsurprisingly, not yet won a title, although he has won four Challengers. In contrast, Zverev has 108 career wins on tour and has won five tournaments this year, to give him six in total. Those titles include two at Masters 1000 level, whilst Tiafoe has won just a handful of matches at tennis’ second highest level.
Path to the second round
Zverev, as the fourth seed, received a bye into the second round, and as a result, Tiafoe will be his first opponent in Ohio. Tiafoe, however, began against German qualifier Maximilian Marterer. Marterer, the world number 121, had played well to reach the main draw but was outmatched against Tiafoe. The American took the first set 6-3 and looked well on top against his opponent. The German battled hard in the second set to keep it close and managed to reach a tie break. But Tiafoe stepped his game up and took it comfortably seven points to two. It was a good effort from Marterer to reach the main draw, whilst Tiafoe earns the honour of a showdown with the tour’s form player.
How do they match up?
Zverev is swiftly establishing himself as the best offensive baseliner on tour. He is able to summon power consistently off both forehand and backhand, and has a fine serve. As Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic learned in Montreal and Rome respectively, he can hit through the best of them. Tiafoe has a game that appears unorthodox but he has a very solid backhand and a good serve. His movement is far from the best on tour but is more than adequate, and he covers the court well. His forehand is the shot he dictates with but it’s also his biggest weakness. The reason for this is that his take back is not only unorthodox, it is also substantial. The problem this causes Tiafoe is that, when rushed for time, he is prone to mishits. If Tiafoe can be rushed, he can be beaten.
It will also be interesting to see how Tiafoe’s backhand matches up to Zverev’s. Though Tiafoe’s is a solid shot, he can’t generate anything like the pace that the German can with it. But, he has shown that he deals well with pace into that wing. He will have to do so, or he will get burned in any cross court rallies. Tiafoe will also have to serve well as he will not be able to win enough points off the ground against Zverev from a neutral position to win the match.
Zverev will probably not win in Cincinnati after taking back-to-back titles in Washington and Montreal but he will beat Tiafoe. The American is a fine prospect, but he doesn’t have the game to beat Zverev, or at least not yet. Zverev has too much power off the ground for Tiafoe, and he is in terrific form. Tiafoe, in contrast, is not. He has lost disappointingly early in Los Cabos and Montreal, and won’t be progressing past the second round in Cincinnati either. Zverev in straight sets.
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