No 3 seed beats popular home hopeful 6-4, 6-4, 6-0
Zverev: ‘My tactic was to hit the ball as slow as possible’
Alexander Zverev needed no reminding of the last time he played John Millman at a grand slam. “Five and a half hours, five sets – he’s a very difficult player to beat,” he said before his second-round match against the Australian.
That match was the third round at Roland Garros in 2020, when the then 89th-ranked Millman rallied from two sets down and pushed him to five stanzas in a thriller that frustrated Zverev to the point of smashing his racket on to the ground.
A lot has happened since then. That same year Zverev made his first first slam final at the US Open. In 2021 he climbed back up to world No 3, won Olympic gold and then the ATP Finals, beating the only two players ranked higher in Novak Djokovic and Daniil Medvedev. With Djokovic gone from his side of the draw and Medvedev safely on the other, the 2022 Australian Open could yet be the German’s tournament.
Getting there will very much depend on the level of consistency for which the 24-year-old is known but somewhat lacked in his opening match at Melbourne Park. On Wednesday night it faltered again only to return just in time to avoid another marathon with the popular local up the other end and finish the match 6-4, 6-4, 6-0.
“My tactic today was to hit the ball as slow as possible,” Zverev said in a post-match interview with the Australian wheelchair tennis champion, Dylan Alcott. “That was my mindset going into the match, but hopefully I can hit it even harder next match and harder the next match after that.”
Alcott, who himself won the Paralympic men’s singles gold in Tokyo 2020 on his way to a golden slam, asked Zverev where he keeps his medal and received an unexpected response.
“That’s actually a good question because my brother took it for a media appearance,” Zverev said. “He didn’t give it back to me yet. I don’t know where it is for the past five months. Hopefully he hasn’t sold it on eBay or something.”
Millman, for his part, gave a thoroughly decent account of himself until the third set, the world No 89 matching his counterpart eight years his junior in an exhibition of impeccable groundstrokes.
During the second set he won three consecutive service games to love and forced Zverev to serve himself out of a hole on more than one occasion with support of a vocal but overall pleasant home crowd at Rod Laver Arena.
“I could really feel that you guys have been locked down for two years,” Zverev said. “I’m prepared that everybody will hate me after the match. It’s quite accurate and that’s my mindset. I’ll get a lot of boos and hopefully everybody will cheer against me. I’m kidding.”
For all Millman’s hustling, though, Zverev simply had the edge, the tactical nous to force a long rally to a head and an at-times uncanny capacity to shave the tiniest outside sliver of the baseline. To offset his 38 unforced errors – a far higher tally than Millman’s 16 – he hit 37 winners to nine and served 14 aces to zero, and will face Moldovan qualifier Radu Albot on Friday with a keen eye to tougher tests awaiting on the other side.