Alexander Zverev outlasts Jannik Sinner in US Open epic after fan ejected for slur | US Open Tennis 2023

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Alexander Zverev didn’t win Monday’s fourth-round showdown with Jannik Sinner so much as survive it, outlasting the sixth-seed Italian in a punishing five-set epic to reach the US Open quarter-finals for a third time.

The 26-year-old from Germany, still gaining confidence in his ankle following an injury at last year’s French Open that sidelined him for eight months, overcame fatigue and a dogged, in-form opponent before finally closing out the 6-4, 3-6, 6-2, 4-6, 6-3 victory – the longest match of this year’s tournament – to earn a Wednesday date with the defending champion and top seed Carlos Alcaraz.

“I guess I can say I’m back, right?” an elated Zverev said. “Last year when I wasn’t able to play, this is exactly what I missed: playing until 1.30am in front of a packed crowd at Arthur Ashe Stadium. There’s nothing better.”

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Zverev and Sinner’s long night’s journey into morning was a gruelling contest of extreme physical and psychological intensity amid sweltering conditions that held a near-capacity crowd of more than 20,000 spectators in their thrall for more than four and a half hours.

Both men traded hellfire over muscular baseline rallies from the first ball, probing each other by changing up spin within the points and mixing in the odd net approach. They went forward on even terms after an early trade of breaks until Zverev broke for 5-4, pounding a forehand into the corner to set up a heat-seeking baseline winner, then coolly punctated a love hold with consecutive aces to serve out the opener after 68 minutes.

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The 22-year-old Sinner, one of the most destructive ball-strikers on the men’s tour, flew off the mark in the second, making far fewer errors and taking the front foot when a suddenly indecisive Zverev double-faulted on break point down, before consolidating for a 3-0 lead while bringing the crowd to its feet with astonishing shotmaking. The German was able to take advantage of a loose service game from his opponent to get back on serve, but Sinner immediately broke back and comfortably served out the set.

Alexander Zverev, playing a backhand shot, and Jannik Sinner, who is close to the net, played in humid conditions on Arthur Ashe court.
Alexander Zverev and Jannik Sinner played in humid conditions in Arthur Ashe Stadium. Photograph: Geoff Burke/USA Today Sports

The 12th-seeded Zverev, whose injury at last year’s Roland Garros saw him drop from world No 2 to outside the top 20, appeared to be wilting at 1-1 in the third set before digging in to hold from love-30 down. Then just as suddenly it was Sinner gripped by agony as cramps overtook his legs, leaving him limping around the baseline and grabbing his toes between points as he tried to will his body into compliance.

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Sinner saved five break points to hold from 15-40 down for 2-2. But Zverev, channelling veteran nous amid his opponent’s suffering, began extending the points in his return games while speeding up the pace on his serve. Unable to even walk properly, Sinner was broken twice more as Zverev moved within one set of the finish line.

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After summoning the physio for treatment Sinner showed astonishing recuperative powers and fighting spirit in forcing Zverev to save four break points to open the fourth – a marathon 16-minute hold including seven deuces that left Zverev doubled over and breathing hard between points. On they went into Tuesday morning, trading holds as the crackling atmosphere on Ashe took a dark turn: Zverev had a spectator in the eighth row ejected after telling the chair umpire he “just said the most famous Hitler phrase in the world”.

By the end of the fourth both players moved gingerly between the points like prizefighters in the championship rounds even as the hitting within them rose in quality. After standing for the duration of a changeover to stave off further cramping, Sinner served his way out of trouble with a series of extraordinary points – a 132mph service winner, his fastest offering of the night; a forehand passing winner to settle a 17-shot exchange; then a feathery drop-shot winner from the baseline – before gesticulating to the roaring crowd. Remarkably, Sinner broke in the ensuing game before holding to force a fifth and deciding set.

Zverev struck first in the decider, breaking Sinner early and backing it up over another hard-fought 16-point hold. But as the players continued to trade concussive groundstrokes on even terms from the baseline, it was Zverev’s deft play at the net – where he won 10 of 11 points in the set (91%) compared to 49% before that point – that made the difference down the stretch.

“The humidity is what killed us both,” Zverev said. “I’m usually a guy that doesn’t sweat. I had to change everything twice. I had to change shoes three or four times.”

Zverev reached his first and only major final in New York three years ago, where he twice came within two points of the title against Dominic Thiem only to succumb in a final-set tiebreaker. Now he’s two wins away from a chance to reverse that greatest heartbreak, an opportunity that means all the more after last year’s choppy waters.

“This is one of the best moments of my career after my comeback and after everything,” he said. “I’m looking forward to what’s next.”

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