MELBOURNE, Jan 17 — World number three Alexander Zverev won an all-German battle to successfully launch his bid for a first Grand Slam title at the Australian Open today.
Zverev encountered stiff resistance from the 87th-ranked Daniel Altmaier before prevailing 7-6 (7/3), 6-1, 7-6 (7/1) in a night match on Rod Laver Arena.
Zverev’s power from the baseline gradually wore down the plucky Altmaier, who earned the acclaim from the crowd for his spirit.
“It’s the first round of hopefully a very long Grand Slam, you are not always going to play your best tennis, except if you are Roger (Federer) or Rafa (Nadal), I’m not like them,” Zverev, 24, said on court.
“It was a good match for me to get into the tournament, hopefully in the next one I’ll be better.”
Zverev will next face Australian John Millman, who got past veteran Spaniard Feliciano Lopez in four sets.
With the deportation of nine-time winner Novak Djokovic on the eve of the tournament, the men’s draw has opened up.
Zverev is among the leading contenders along with world number two Daniil Medvedev, fourth-seeded Greek Sefanos Tsitsipas and 20-time Grand Slam champion Nadal.
Zverev, who is yet to win a major, had a 63-minute struggle before taking the opening set in a tiebreaker.
Altmaier, making his Australian Open debut, showed great character to fight off three set points before Zverev claimed the tiebreaker with an overhead smash.
Zverev consolidated his grip on the match taking the second set in 29 minutes, winning it on his second set point with a rasping forehand winner.
Altmaier refused to be daunted by his high-profile opponent and broke in the third set when Zverev’s crouching volley found the net.
But the underdog played some loose shots and handed back the break to 4-4.
Zverev held three match points in the 12th game but Altmaier fought them all off and a fourth with a strong serve to force a tiebreaker.
Zverev steamed through the tiebreaker to hold five more match points before taking it out in two hours 38 minutes.
Zverev, who reached the semi-finals in Melbourne in 2020 before bowing out to Dominic Thiem, won six singles titles last year along with the Olympic Games gold medal in Tokyo.
Zverev also reached the semi-finals of the French Open and the US Open, losing in five-set matches to Tsitsipas and Djokovic.
Despite his talent, the German has still only reached one Grand Slam final — the US Open in 2020, where he squandered a two-set lead to Thiem.
The gangly German also finished off the year with victory over Medvedev in the ATP Finals. — AFP