On paper, this was one of the best matchups coming into Day 5 of the French Open, and it didn’t disappoint. Baez is a rising clay courter reminiscent of countryman Diego Schwartzman, and looked like he could be a threat to pull off a big upset against the World #3. On a day that lacked supercharged matchups, this one looked good, and was indeed filled with drama.
Alexander Zverev def. Sebastian Baez 2-6 4-6 6-1 6-2 7-5
Zverev got off to an inauspicious start, dropping serve in the first game after leading 40-0. Baez broke again a few games later to take a 4-1 lead. Despite being generally dominant, Zverev is perhaps the most vulnerable of the top players to strange lapses (it seems that every time I find a low-level player with a single inexplicable win against a top player, it’s against Zverev). This appeared to be headed towards an upset, as Baez took the opening set 6-2.
Baez got out to a great start in the second set, double-breaking right away to take a 4-0 lead. Unforced errors were piling up for the Zverev, combined with good play from the Argentine, including regular drop shots that constitute a good strategy (if you can pull them off) against the net-averse Zverev. The German recovered one of the breaks and made the set competitive, but Baez held on to take the set 6-4.
The world #3 steeled his nerves inside the deep hole and broke immediately in the 3rd to take his first lead in a set. Baez fought back to see a break point at 3-1, but couldn’t convert. He was starting to come undone mentally, giving Zverev a look at a break point on a double fault, and two points later giving up the game to put himself in a 5-1 hole. The hole was too big to dig out of, and Zverev held to take the set.
Things didn’t get any better for the young Argentine to start the 4th, as he gave up a break in the first game. The two-set-to-love lead seemed to be a distant memory, as well as his dominant first set, as the momentum continued to roll in favor of the #3 seed German. Unforced errors were plaguing Baez now, whose total drew up equal to Zverev’s by the middle of the 4th set, as he gave up another break to fall to 4-1. Zverev then finished off the set 6-2 as his roaring comeback evened the score.
Both players dug in their heels to start the decider, which stayed on serve through five games. But a double fault from Zverev at game point kept Baez hanging around in the sixth, and the Argentine eventually broke to take a crucial lead at 4-2. The advantage was short-lived, however, as Zverev recovered the break immediately. The next two games stayed on serve to give Baez the chance to break for the upset. A combination of poor serving from Zverev and some more skillful drop shots from Baez gave the Argentine a look at match point. But it quickly disappeared against a good first serve, and Zverev was able to hold on to even the match at five.
In the 11th game, Zverev fought into an advantage, and a mistake from Baez handed him the break and gave him an opportunity to serve out the match. And while his first serve didn’t hold very well, he was able to close out his dangerous opponent and skirt an upset to move on to the third round. A close shave for Zverev and a thrilling almost-upset for Baez that will likely hurt in the moment but be a source of encouragement, when he can take a step back, that he acquitted himself so well against such a tough opponent in the biggest clay tournament in the world.
Main Photo from Getty.