Teenage prodigy Alexander Zverev fired a statement of intent on the Gerry Weber Stadium turf and declared he is better prepared to compete at a Grand Slam than ever before.
The world No.38 has begun only his second grass court season and illustrated on Centre Court in Halle why he is one of the leading lights of the next generation.
Emerging last season, Zverev’s pure talent was undeniable, but fast forward 12 months and his grit and astonishing athleticism are clear to see.
“I mean Viktor is a very good grass court player. He played very well last year on the grass, making the final in Stuttgart and the semis at Queen’s. So, he knows how to play on this surface,” said the assured German, who had just swept aside world No.24 Viktor Troicki 6-4, 6-4.
“I feel good, I played well, I didn’t make a lot of mistakes and served quite well and got my return going, which is probably the most important thing on the grass. I’m just happy that I could beat somebody like Viktor in straight sets.”
Straight sets yes, but it was the manner. Zverev surrendered a 3-1 first set lead but stuck to his guns, lasering his serve with supreme variety. Facing break points, he still targeted the lines.
Keeping such a shot-maker as seventh seed Troicki so subdued was testament to Zverev’s new found steel, which he has combined effectively with his endless endeavour to improve his athleticism.
“It’s different now. Last year (at Wimbledon) was my first Grand Slam in the main draw. I think I’m now much more prepared to play the big matches. Last season, I’d play one five-setter and would then be exhausted for three days,” admitted the world No.38. “That’s why I think I’m more prepared to compete at the Grand Slams now. I am already looking forward to first the upcoming matches here in Halle, and then also to Wimbledon.”
The gregarious Marcos Baghdatis has set his sights on a second week journey at Wimbledon in July, insisting he still possesses a threat for the title at SW19.
The 30-year-old gained revenge over Tomas Berdych for his 2007 Halle final defeat and chalked up a first victory over the fourth seed since 2010.
The amiable Cypriot clattered down 10 aces and attacked Berdych’s second serve (winning 21 out of a possible 31 duels) to prevail 7-6(3), 7-6(4).
“I played a smart match, served well on the important points and was very, very solid,” said Baghdatis, who is determined to build a memorable 2016 campaign.
“I set a goal of the end of the season, to be back in the top 30, but at the same time my wife and I welcomed a new child in December, so I wanted to spend time with them and not play too much lately. I arrived at the French Open without a lot of matches but managed to play really good, losing that match (five-set thriller) against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga,” explained the world No.42, having lost on grass in the first round at Stuttgart against Jan-Lennard Struff.
“So today was very important to get the win, I don’t know how I did it. I now have an extra match, I need to get my legs tired on the match court instead of the practice court, it’s a completely different thing, so that’s why I’m very, very happy with today,” added Baghdatis who kissed the turf following his eye-catching win “I love the grass! No, if I have a big win I celebrate like that.”
Wimbledon is the Slam I have the best chance of winning
Baghdatis reached the semi-finals at Wimbledon a decade ago and is still adamant such a run is possible in 2016.
“I still think Wimbledon is the Grand Slam that I have the best chance of winning, the better percentage of winning over the others. My goal is to play in the second week at Wimbledon, but I need luck in the draw, but I also hope here in Halle I can go a lot further to maybe secure a seeding for Wimbledon and avoid the top guys in the opening rounds.”
Dustin Brown is next up for Baghdatis. The German certainly lived up to his box office billing on Tuesday.
Spain’s Albert Ramos-Vinolas was staggered by the trickery on show by Brown. The wild card had Ramos-Vinolas applauding shots or shaking his head in bemusement as the world No.87 thrived in front of his adoring home fans.
The 31-year-old successfully managed to carve a drop shot from the position of a smash in a spectacular highlight from his 6-3 opener.
Having squandered two match points Brown orchestrated the crowd into a standing ovation at 6-5 as he swatted a bulleted cross court forehand winner on route to breaking Ramos-Vinolas to cap off a memorable win.
Elsewhere America’s rising star Taylor Fritz failed to find a way past Japan’s qualifier Yuichi Sugita in a 7-6(4), 2-6, 6-3 ticket for the world No.102 into the last 16.
Another qualifier Sergiy Stakhovsky utilised his old school serve and volley gameplan to fend off Denis Kudla 7-5, 4-6, 6-3.
German Florian Mayer opened up proceedings on day two and earned a clash with world No.6 Kei Nishikori in the next round.
“Of course, he is a top player. He has improved so much in the last three years and is obviously the favourite. But if I have a chance it’s here on the grass at Halle. The surface is ideal for my game and perhaps not his best surface. So it’s a small chance I want to take,” said Mayer having claimed a morale boosting 7-5, 7-6(3) scoreline facing Brian Baker.
“I played really well. He wasn’t a nice opponent to play, I knew he had been injured for a long time, he particularly likes the grass and has also made it to the last 16 at Wimbledon. You can just feel that he walks onto the court with the grass and it’s his surface, his world.
“It was a close match. I think I played really well, I had a good attitude and positive body language. I am very happy with today’s result.”