Zverev keeps it short, advances to 3rd round at French Open

Down 4-1 in the third set, Alexander Zverev decided it was time to shorten his match at the French Open.

He was determined to avoid another lengthy fight following a five-set battle in the previous round, so he applied pressure on qualifier Roman Safiullin. The sixth-seeded German won the next game at love, broke back by pushing his rival into unforced errors and was nearly flawless in the tiebreaker.

The reward was a 7-6 (4), 6-3, 7-6 (1) victory to advance into the third round at Roland Garros.

"I’m happy to be through in three sets. I’m happy not to have played another five-setter," Zverev said. "I think it’s going to be important for me during the course of this tournament."

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Zverev, facing a rival he has known since their days in the boys' categories, dropped his serve three times on Court Suzanne Lenglen but managed to catch up with Safiullin. It wasn't smooth — he hit 10 double-faults and challenged several calls — but he kept his cool when it mattered.

A 25-shot rally in the final tiebreaker epitomized Zverev's combative attitude. First on the defensive, Zverev turned it around and won the point with a passing shot. He took the next five points to seal the match and extend his perfect record against qualifiers to four matches on the Paris clay.

Zverev, the 2020 U.S. Open runner-up, has been in excellent form in the buildup to the clay-court major. He is among the top contenders in Paris following his title in Madrid, where he beat Rafael Nadal.

Zverev was joined in the third round by qualifier Henri Laaksonen, who hit 53 winners to upset 11th-seeded Roberto Bautista Agut 6-3, 2-6, 6-3, 6-2. The 29-year-old Swiss had never beaten a top 20 player before.

"I was not expecting that I'd win today," Laaksonen said. "It's a great result. I want to improve my game and let's see what happens."

Kei Nishikori of Japan was taken to five sets for the second consecutive match before downing the big-hitting Karen Khachanov 4-6, 6-2, 2-6, 6-4, 6-4. The 23rd-seeded Khachanov was treated by a trainer in the fifth set after cutting his right middle finger by hitting his racket strings in anger.

Nishikori extended his record in five-set matches to 26-7.

In the women's draw, 2019 runner-up Marketa Vondrousova reached the third round with a 6-1, 6-3 win over wild-card entry Harmony Tan. Earlier, 10th-seeded Belinda Bencic’s campaign at Roland Garros ended with a 6-2, 6-2 loss to Daria Kasatkina, while Katerina Siniakova saved two match points to oust 29th-seeded Veronika Kudermetova 7-6 (7), 5-7, 7-5.

Ahead of the French Open, Siniakova made a deep run in Parma, where she upset top-seeded Serena Williams.

Bencic struggled with her serve throughout and was broken four times by her Russian rival. The Swiss player has never progressed past the third round at the French Open in five appearances.

Kasatkina made it to the quarterfinals in Paris in 2018, but it’s the first time this season that she has won consecutive matches on clay.

Williams was scheduled to play later Wednesday against Mihaela Buzarnescu of Romania. The 23-time Grand Slam champion will try to get back to the third round at Roland Garros a year after she withdrew from the tournament before her second match because of an injured left Achilles.

Also advancing to the third round were 15th-seeded Victoria Azarenka and No. 33 seed Paula Badosa.