By Florian Heer
The top four seeds of the Hamburg European Open ATP 500 event took center stage Wednesday and spectators at the Rothenbaum Tennis Complex were treated to an array of enthralling matches. Andrey Rublev came back from the brink as he saved three match points to overcome Spaniard Bernabe Zapata Miralles 5-7, 6-1, 7-6(7) in his opening encounter.
In the pair’s first meeting, the No. 2 seed experienced a roller coaster of emotions while facing an opponent who brought a strong level and was close to beating his first Top 10 player. Rublev needed to hit a lot of risky shots, broke his opponent’s serve five times and won 52 per cent of the total points played to secure victory in two hours and 52 minutes.
“The feeling was that I was playing well, and it was under control, but somehow, I lost the first set and was frustrated,” said Rublev. “I came back and recovered mentally and won a really good second set. The third set was tough. I started to get tired and nervous, because the score is going to the tie-break and I didn’t have many chances to break him.”
Rublev added: “The feeling was that he deserved to win. He was fighting like crazy from tough scores. When I went 0-3, I started to stress a lot. But then I played two amazing rallies and told myself to keep fighting. It is amazing I was able to win.”
Rublev arrived in Hamburg fresh from lifting the Nordea Open trophy in Bastad, Sweden on Sunday.
“The first games are always tough when you come from another tournament and don’t have much time to prepare,” the World No. 7 explained. “My opponent played really well and at some points, I really didn’t know what to do. Sometimes I needed to hit full power with a lot of risk in order to win a rally. I am just happy.”
Rublev has happy memories of Hamburg after winning the title here in 2020. However, due to the changeable weather in northern Germany this week, most of the Center Court matches are taking place under a closed roof.
“I like it when it is a bit colder this year,” the 25-year-old Moscow native said. “The feeling here is good. You can play rallies; you can defend and attack. I always like the conditions in Hamburg.”
Rublev has strung together five consecutive wins on the ATP Tour and will aim to continue his run when he meets German Daniel Altmaier in Thursday’s second round. “We haven’t played each other, so I don’t know his game very well. We will see what’s going to happen,” he concluded.
Ruud starts title bid with three-set win
Top seed Casper Ruud, runner up to Rublev in Bastad, also had to go the distance in his first-round match. He fought past Sebastian Baez of Argentina 6-3, 1-6, 6-3. The fourth-ranked Norwegian showed some elite clay-court tennis in the first and third sets to prevail after one hour and 56 minutes.
“It was very tough. Sebastian is a great fighter. He has taken big steps in the past year, so it was always going to be a tough challenge,” said Ruud.
“It took a bit of time to adjust to the new conditions. Today we played indoors under the roof, which kind of makes it different on clay. It’s more humid, the ball is heavier, and I made too many mistakes. From now on, I have to continue to do well in the tournament, winning matches. I am gonna have to step up and bring my game to the rest of the week.”
Next, the 24-year-old three-time Grand Slam finalist Ruud will face Cristian Garin of Chile.
Zverev advances to quarterfinals
In the last match on Center Court Wednesday evening, Alexander Zverev reached his third quarterfinal in Hamburg. The No. 4 seed emerged victorious from the all-German affair, winning 6-3, 7-5 against wild card entry Maximilian Marterer in one hour and 17 minutes.
“I think that I played a very good match, but he pushed me, especially in the second set. I am happy with my level, but he played some great tennis as well,” Zverev said.
“For someone like me, who is quite tall and powerful as a player, I need my first serve on clay to be dominant from start to finish. So far it has worked quite well and also hopefully for the next matches.”
The hometown boy will next oppose Frenchman Luca van Assche. “I am in the quarterfinals but still having some tough opponents ahead of me. Tomorrow I will have a day off hopefully playing some golf when the weather goes along. Then I will be back her on Friday,” said Zverev.
Meanwhile, the second-round match between third-seeded defending champion Lorenzo Musetti of Italy and Jozef Kovalik was suspended due to darkness with the Slovakian lucky loser leading 6-3, 1-4. It will resume Thursday not before 2 p.m. local time.
German women’s trio move on in Hamburg
On the women’s side, Jule Niemeier delighted her home crowd on Center Court by reaching the quarterfinals of the WTA 250 event. The German wild card entry rallied past No. 6 seed Yulia Putintseva from Kazakhstan 5-7, 6-3, 6-1. Niemeier struck five aces and won 78 per cent of her first-service points to prevail after two hours and 36 minutes.
“I think I should have won the first set,” said Niemeier. “I was up 5-3 and disappointed after losing it but I kept going and played more offensive like I did in the beginning of the match. That was the key. I am super happy to get the win today.”
The 23-year-old Dortmund native will next face Australian qualifier Daria Saville, who was a 7-6(6), 6-2 winner over Germany’s Tamara Korpatsch in two hours and 34 minutes.
Later in the day, Eva Lys dispatched Panna Udvardy of Hungary 6-4, 6-1. The World No. 167 capitalized on five of her eight break-point chances to reach her first tour-level quarterfinal after one hour and 19 minutes.
“It was incredible. I was really nervous in the first set but the support from the crowd helped me a lot. I wouldn’t be able to do without you,” Lys said during her on-court interview. “Every time someone asks me, I say hard court is my favourite surface. But apparently, I am playing my best on clay. Maybe I should switch that mentality up a bit.
“I am physically fit. I don’t have a lot of expectation going, competing against higher-ranked players, which is always a bit easier. I know what I can, that’s how I do it on practice and it was just a matter of time to show it on a match court as well.”
The 21-year-old from Hamburg will next challenge Arantxa Rus of the Netherlands, who outlasted Argentine Nadia Podoroska 6-3, 3-6, 7-5 in two hours and 40 minutes.
On Court M1, local wild card entry Noma Noha Akugue also continued her fine run of form this week. After notching her first WTA Tour main draw match win on Monday, the 19-year-old from Hamburg fought past Storm Hunter of Australia 0-6, 7-6(2), 6-4 in two hours and 32 minutes. Noha Akugue will take on Italian Martina Trevisan in the quarterfinals.