June 1, 2018
If Serena Williams did it the hard way on Thursday, Alexander Zverev came even closer to defeat on Friday.
The French Open second seed had to save a match point against Damir Dzumhur, the world 29 from Bosnia-Herzegovina.
Zverev was in trouble on his own serve, as he struggled to level the fifth at 5-5, having let a commanding lead slip.
But he stayed strong and soon earned his reward. Unpredictable Zverev, the German heartthrob leading the new generation in tennis, battled through to win 6-2, 3-6, 4-6, 7-6 (7-3), 7-5.
If he wants to improve his record in Grand Slams, however, he is going to have to learn to conserve his energy better in the early rounds.
Just as well Zverev is still only 21, because this was his second five-set thriller in a row. He will need all his youthful reserves if he is to do well in the second week in Paris.
There will be no second week for the fourth seed, Grigor Dimitrov. The charismatic Bulgarian has looked capable of taking his game up a level during the last twelve months.
But his fizz was lacking against Spain’s Fernando Verdasco, who triumphed 7-6 (7-4), 6-2, 6-4 at the age of 34.
Meanwhile Serena Williams had already proved that the mid-thirties and motherhood are no barriers to success on a tennis court.
The way Serena’s game caught fire just as she looked to be staring defeat in the face was an extraordinary sight on Thursday evening.
Williams had lost the first set 3-6, was broken with ease at the start of the second, and couldn’t seem to do a thing right.
Suddenly she unleashed a backhand winner down the line and screamed out all her frustration. The warrior had come out to play. And her opponent, Ashleigh Barty, a feisty customer herself, couldn’t handle the fight.
Serena produced the kind of sparkling form we have all been waiting for, before wrapping up the last two sets 6-3, 6-4.
She explained: ‘I lost the first set, and I thought, I’ve got to try harder….And Serena came out.’
Williams burst out laughing at that notion, but it was true. And when the real Serena comes out, opponents struggle to live with her.
Whatever happens from here at Roland Garros, it all looks good for Wimbledon 2018. Zverev matches full of drama, Serena and her battle cry back at last…we can’t wait for the Grand Slam show to move to London.