After a long road back, Alexander Zverev is showing plenty of promising signs this week at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships.
The German defeated Lorenzo Sonego 7-5, 6-4 on Thursday at the hard-court ATP 500 to reach his first semi-final since he suffered a serious ankle injury at Roland Garros in 2022. Zverev clinched a decisive single break in both sets for his sixth tour-level win of the year.
“It’s been a very difficult time for me over, I would say, the last nine months,” said Zverev in his on-court interview. “I haven’t played tennis at all for such a long period for the first time in my life. It definitely shows that the hard work is paying off and I’m extremely happy with my progress and how I’m playing right now.
“I’m happy to be in my first semi-final since the injury. Hopefully it won’t be my last and hopefully there’s much more to come here.”
Zverev has been searching for his best level since returning to competitive action after seven months at the United Cup. The former World No. 2 had won just two tour-level matches this season prior to this week, but he has dropped only one set in his opening three rounds against Jiri Lehecka, Christopher O’Connell and Sonego in Dubai.
Although both Zverev and Sonego showcased high-quality volleying throughout their one-hour, 52-minute encounter, the German 19-time ATP Tour titlist was more consistent from the baseline. He hit just eight unforced errors to Sonego’s 16.
Zverev faced six break points — three in his first service game of the match and three serving for victory in the final game — but saved all of them to stay perfect on serve. He was pleased with the way he had handled the situation at 5-4, 0/40 in the second set as Sonego threatened a late comeback at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Stadium.
“In those moments, you’ve got to go back to the basics,” said Zverev. “You’ve got to play each point by itself, you’ve got to remember what you can control. That is always your serve, that’s the only shot in tennis you can control purely by yourself. It obviously helps that I hit five first-serves in a row and then the match was over.”
Zverev’s opponent in his maiden Dubai semi-final will be Andrey Rublev, after the defending champion overcame some late resistance from Botic van de Zandschulp to reach the final four for the third consecutive year.
Rublev held his nerve in the second-set tie-break to complete a 6-3, 7-6(3) victory against the Dutch World No. 33. He had been broken by Van de Zandschulp for the first time in the match when serving for it at 5-4 in the second set, but kept his composure to win the final five points of the one-hour, 53-minute encounter and level the pair’s ATP Head2Head series at 1-1.
“After I won some [recent] matches being a set down and a break down, I was thinking, ‘It’s not over, I need to do one more break’,” said Rublev after the match. “I had opportunities and I didn’t take them. I started to get stressed, and then the game at 5-4. He played well, I got tight, and he broke me.
“Then we start all over again, but in the tie-break I could start at the bottom, play even more aggressive and better… From 3/3 I think I played four really good rallies and because of this I was able to win.”
Van de Zandschulp saved 10 of 12 break points he faced to frustrate Rublev for much of the match, but the second seed persistently clubbed his forehand to good effect. Rublev fired 28 winners, including nine aces, and he believes similarly positive tactics will be key if he is to defeat Zverev for the first time at the sixth attempt in Friday’s semi-finals.
“I need to play good tennis, to play aggressive,” said Rublev. “He’s a top player, he was winning so many great titles and beating all the top players, so he knows how to play tennis and he knows how to play against me.”