The wave of emotion that Alexander Zverev let out after match point told much of the story of his third-round victory against Emil Ruusuvuori on Sunday at the BNP Paribas Open.
Zverev overcame a second-set lapse and plenty of third-set pressure from his opponent to clinch a 7-5, 1-6, 7-5 triumph at the ATP Masters 1000 event. The 12th seed’s ecstasy at reaching the fourth round for the third time in seven main-draw appearances in Indian Wells was matched by his relief at prevailing in an encounter in which he won seven fewer points than his opponent.
“The last two years, I lost 7-6 in the third, to two Americans,” said Zverev, who fell to Taylor Fritz in 2021 and Tommy Paul in 2022 in California. “I lost a lot of tight three-setters here, and I feel like I just wanted to get out here and get this win.
“I was doing everything I could. I felt like he [Ruusuvuori] was playing better than me starting from the second set, and also throughout the third set, I thought he was outplaying me a lot of the time. So I’m just finding a way and I’m happy to do that today.”
Zverev recovered well from a disappointing second-set display in his second tour-level meeting with the World No. 59 Ruusuvuori. Yet despite surging to a 3-0 lead in the decider, the German soon found himself fending off three break points on his own serve at 4-4. He survived on all three occasions, with his most notable escape engineered with a stunning backhand pass from out wide that had the Stadium 1 crowd on its feet.
Zverev then made a move of his own on return in the 12th game, converting his first match point to secure a tense two-hour, 41-minute win. The 2021 quarter-finalist was pleased with the way he had battled to victory despite struggling to find his best level for parts of the match.
“He’s an incredibly aggressive opponent, he can hit the ball very hard from both sides. I’m happy that I managed to win, to get it done somehow,” he said. “I wasn’t playing my best and I thought he really was. That’s how it goes sometimes, but I’m happy with the win and I’m happy to move forward.”
Zverev’s next test in Indian Wells will be a fourth-round clash against the in-form Daniil Medvedev or Ilya Ivashka.
Frances Tiafoe broke new ground when he enjoyed a comfortable 6-3, 6-2 win over Australian Jason Kubler to reach the Indian Wells fourth round for the first time in seven appearances.
The 25-year-old American seems intent on capitalising on the opening-round exit of Stefanos Tsitsipas, which has thrown open the bottom quarter of the draw. He next faces the winner of Chilean qualifier Alejandro Tabilo and World No. 87 Australian Jordan Thompson, who stunned the second-seeded Greek on Friday.
“I want to make it count, especially at the bigger events this year,” said Tiafoe, who dropped just four games to countryman Marcos Giron in the opening round. “I haven’t even scratched the surface. I want to see how far I can go.”