Zverev Wins Birthday Thriller

Alexander Zverev made it a 21st birthday to remember on Friday night by reaching the Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters semi-finals for the first time.

The third-seeded German overcame the courtcraft and inventiveness of Richard Gasquet, in addition to a respectful and predominantly French crowd, to complete a hard-fought and thrilling 4-6, 6-2, 7-5 victory. It was his fourth straight win over 2005 semi-finalist Gasquet, who, one day prior, had become the first man from his country to record 500 match wins.

With cheers of “Allez, Richard” reverberating around Monte-Carlo bay, Gasquet recovered from a 0-2 deficit in the deciding set and came within one point of breaking for 5-4 and 6-5 leads. But Zverev held his nerve in clutch moments to record his fourth straight win over Gasquet in two hours and 39 minutes.

Zverev will now play Japan’s Kei Nishikori in Saturday’s semi-finals, having won their lone FedEx ATP Head2Head meeting at the 2017 Citi Open in Washington, D.C. Last month, Zverev advanced to the Miami Open presented by Itau final (l. to Isner) and is now 17-6 on the season.

Gasquet played tactically smart in the first set, controlling rallies with his single-handed backhand, stepping inside the baseline and hitting his forehand aggressively, in addition to striking inventive shots at the right time.

Initially, a double fault saw Zverev broken to love in the opening game, then a forehand volley winner from Gasquet gave him a 4-1 advantage — which was one of four straight service breaks. At 5-4, when serving for the set for a second time, Gasquet calmly closed out with a backhand drop shot winner on his second set point opportunity.

The second set was just as dramatic. Having saved three break points in the opening game, Zverev then took a 2-0 lead with a forehand volley winner, but the predominantly French crowd attempted to rouse Gasquet. Zverev took time away from Gasquet and seized the momentum with a hold to 15 for 4-1 that broke three straight games of service breaks. A backhand error from Gasquet, which he snatched at in attempting to strike down the line, handed Zverev the set.

The match could have unravelled for Gasquet early in the decider, when two stray forehands saw the 31-year-old broken in the second game. But Gasquet fought and, although unable to overpower Zverev as both players struggled for service consistency — that resulted in four straight service breaks — the Frenchman did get back to level terms.

Gasquet came within one point of breaking serve for 5-4 and 6-5 leads, but Zverev held his nerve and fell to the ground after sealing a memorable victory with a backhand winner down the line.

Gasquet’s first tour-level match win came as a 15-year-old at the 2002 Monte-Carlo tournament, and he remains the youngest player to earn a victory since Tommy Ho, also 15, at 1988 Rye Brook.

Zverev had previously beaten Gasquet in 2017 in the Open Sud de France final in Montpellier, the Gerry Weber Open semi-finals in Halle and ATP World Tour Masters 1000 Canada in Montreal, where the German saved three match points.

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