Alexander Zverev was not at his flying best on Tuesday afternoon inside Arthur Ashe Stadium, but he still found a way to win.
The fifth seed rallied past long-time rival Borna Coric 1-6, 7-6(6), 7-6(1), 6-3 to reach his first US Open semi-final. Zverev had lost all three of his previous tour-level tie-breaks against Coric, but his calm under pressure proved vital in their quarter-final at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center.
“I just started playing maybe a little bit more aggressive because if I would have played the way I played, that’s not the level for a quarter-final match of a Grand Slam. I had to start playing better and I was a little bit more consistent then as well. My serve got better and I thought to myself, ‘I’m down 6-1, 4-2, I have nothing to lose.'”
Coric has been Zverev’s kryptonite dating back to their junior days. The Croatian beat the German in the 2013 US Open boys’ singles semi-finals and entered this match leading their ATP Head2Head series 3-1, including a four-set victory in New York three years ago. But Zverev did a better job of reducing his errors when he needed to, triumphing after three hours and 24 minutes.
The 2018 Nitto ATP Finals champion is the first German US Open semi-finalist since Boris Becker in 1995. The highest-ranked seed remaining in the top half of the draw will play 12th seed Denis Shapovalov or 20th seed Pablo Carreno Busta for a spot in his first major final.
It was like déjà vû for Zverev, who lost the first set of his Australian Open quarter-final earlier this year against three-time major winner Stan Wawrinka 1-6, before rallying to beat the Swiss in four sets. On this occasion, Coric led by a set and a break, but he was unable to put away the fifth seed.
The 27th seed was two service holds from taking a two-set lead, but Zverev curled a cross-court forehand passing shot for a winner to get back on serve. The German spent a large portion of the match behind the baseline. But from that moment, Zverev reduced his errors, forcing the Croatian to beat him, which he did not.
In three of the final four points of the second-set tie-break, Coric had short balls to hammer away, but he missed them all. Zverev let out a loud roar after the Croatian missed a backhand into the net to end the set, and he progressively increased his level from there.
Zverev faced a dangerous moment at 5-6 in the third set, when he quickly rushed for a short ball to avoid facing two set points, ultimately cruising through the day’s second tie-break.
Zverev closed out the match with a big first serve, immediately turning around towards his camp and cracking a smile. The 23-year-old crushed 18 aces and won 76 per cent of his first-serve points. He hit 52 winners to 46