Alexander Zverev, the highest-ranked under-21 player at #22 in the world, survived a 1st round scare against Robin Haase to advance to the 2nd round of the Australian Open for the first time in his career. Not only was the German down 2-1 in sets, he was also down a break in the 4th set and looked on the cusp of elimination, before Haase cracked under the pressure–as has been so often the case over his career–barely winning any games afterwards.
Struggling in the first round isn’t necessarily a bad sign; just ask Kei Nishikori, Stan Wawrinka, or Marn Cilic, all top eight seeds who also went the distance in their 2017 Melbourne debut. But Zverev will nevertheless be worried with the poor level he displayed for most of the match, especially as a potential meeting with Rafael Nadal looms large. For now though, Zverev will surely be happy that he lives to fight another day, with either Francs Tiafoe or Mikhail Kukushkin awaiting him in the second round.
Meanwhile, another next generation player, Jared Donaldson, suffered a shocking defeat against, on paper, one of the worst players in the draw in Rogerio Dutra Silva. It came as even more of a shock given Donaldson’s great performance in Brisbane, where he pushed Nishikori to the limit, and the fact he cruised to a 6-3 6-0 lead after today. His level fell off a cliff from the third set onwards, perhaps due to the intense Australian summer heat. Whatever the case, there’s no question that this is an extremely disappointing result for the young American, who actually had a pretty good draw here to at least match his Round 3 performance at last year’s US Open, what with a declining Gilles Simon awaiting in the next round.
It remains to be seen whether this is just a hiccup and Donaldson can deliver on the positive signs he had been showing in recent months. In fairness to Donaldson, this was his first Grand Slam experience outside the US Open and, even for more seasoned players, the Australian heat can be quite unbearable, so perhaps we shouldn’t take any definite conclusions concerning his future based on this match and result.