French Open #SmashTalk: Zverev stronger after fightback?

Published by TenniSmash

TESTING TIME: Alexander Zverev was taken to five sets in round two; Getty Images

Alexander Zverev remains on course to make his Grand Slam breakthrough in Paris, but only after surviving a searching examination of his form and fortitude on Wednesday.

Serbia’s Dusan Lajovic took the second seed to five sets in round two, and the #SmashTalk team of Vivienne Christie, Piers Newbery and Leigh Rogers discusses whether this leaves the German’s challenge strengthened or weakened.

We would love to know your thoughts on today’s big topics too. Have your say on Facebook and Twitter using #SmashTalk.

Zverev wins in five – reassured or concerned?

Alexander Zverev beats Dusan Lajovic 2-6 7-5 4-6 6-1 6-2 in round two.

Leigh Rogers: Having lost his past three Grand Slam five-set matches, avoiding a fourth could prove a career-defining result for the 21-year-old. His happy disposition in the post-match press conference moment that has gone viral is telling from a player who has been becoming increasingly defensive of his results at Grand Slam level.

That moment suggested to me that this result has alleviated some of the pressure Zverev had been feeling. His chances of a career-best result in Paris are looking even more promising now.

Vivienne Christie: I see a fighting five-set win as an early test that Sascha required at Roland Garros. The win over Lajovic marked only his fifth successful five-setter of 10 contested, so he enters the third round against Damir Dzuhmur knowing he can last the distance if that’s what’s required. The charming German was clearly at ease as he responded to inevitable questions about his meagre major record in post-match press. Both the hard-fought win and Zverev’s response to it suggest an evolving Sascha; the next step is a career-best Slam.

Piers Newbery: Sorry to be the voice of doom, maybe it’s because I’ve tipped him to reach the final, but I was left feeling less sure of Zverev’s chances in Paris after watching his early struggles against Lajovic. There is a theory that early tests can sharpen up a player for the long haul of a Grand Slam but if there is any merit to that (and I’m sceptical), it tends to apply to seasoned performers who might suffer from a lack of matchplay in the latter stages. That is not the case with Zverev, who needs nothing more than a few straightforward wins to set him up for the second week.

Serena Williams v Ash Barty – who wins and why?

Former world No.1 Serena Williams plays Australian No.1 Ash Barty on Thursday.

Vivienne: As inconceivable as it can seem for anyone to steal Serena’s spotlight, I sense this is Ash Barty’s time to shine. While Serena enters with all the pressure and only one clay-court match contested in the past two seasons, Barty has quietly continued her steady rise. Four-and-half years on, the 22-year-old Barty is a far more complete player than she was when overwhelmed by Serena in the Australian Open first round. Provided the back injury that forced her withdrawal from the Strasbourg semifinals isn’t a factor, the level-headed Barty can win.

REPORT: Halep overcomes early nerves in first round

Piers: Barty might never have a better chance to make a big impact on the Grand Slam stage, up against an all-time great who must be vulnerable given her lack of matches anywhere, let alone on clay. If she can handle the occasion – and facing Serena on a Grand Slam centre court requires nerve, whatever her form – and get into the American’s service games, then Barty has the craft to get Serena on the move and out of her comfort zone. Some big ifs, but a career-defining moment is there for the taking. Barty in three.

Leigh: Serena. Barty is not confident on clay and I’m not sure she has the self-belief yet to beat Serena on a Grand Slam stage. The No.17 seed’s variety and on-court nous could prove problematic for Serena, especially if the 23-time Grand Slam champion is struggling for rhythm. But a telling difference is that Barty is yet to claim a big win at a Grand Slam tournament – a stage where Serena lifts when she is challenged.

Under the radar – who is the woman to watch?

Piers: Daria Kasatkina. After a dip in form following her scorching run earlier this year, the Russian appears to be getting her game back together nicely. There are dangers everywhere in the draw, not least her third-round match against Maria Sakkari, but a confident Kasatkina is a match for anyone.

Leigh: Sloane Stephens. The reigning US Open champion, who lists clay as her favourite surface, has lost only six games in reaching the third round. The No.10 seed is one to watch in the wide-open bottom half.

Vivienne: Anett Kontaveit. Her semifinal runs in Stuttgart and Rome included wins over Grand Slam champions in Angelique Kerber, Svetlana Kuznetsova, Venus Williams and Caroline Wozniacki, and she faces a third career meeting with Petra Kvitova knowing she’s twice pushed the No.8 seed to three sets.

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