Defending champion Zverev advances to Washington final

Alexander Zverev is through to his fifth final of the year. (AFP pic)

WASHINGTON: Third-ranked defending champion Alexander Zverev reached the Washington Open final Saturday by defeating Greek teen Stefanos Tsitsipas 6-2, 6-4 to launch the first all-21-or-under ATP semi-finals in 23 years.

Germany’s Zverev, the oldest of the last four at 21, will play Sunday for the US$384,120 (331,637 euros) top prize against the later winner between Russian Andrey Rublev, 20, and 19-year-old Australian Alex De Minaur.

“I’m playing great and hopefully I can win,” Zverev said. “I hope I get out there and play a good match and get to Toronto with another title.”

Zverev seeks his ninth career ATP title and third of the year after Munich and Madrid. He also was runner-up at Miami and Rome.

Top seed Zverev could join a Washington back-to-back champions list that includes Argentina’s Juan Martin del Potro (2008-09) plus Americans Andre Agassi (1990-91 and 1998-99) and Michael Chang (1996-97).

Not since 1995 at Buenos Aires had the ATP seen a completely 21-and-under semi-final lineup and it’s a first in the Washington event’s half-century history.

“This is amazing for tennis,” Zverev said. “It’s good to see the young guns come up.”

It won’t quite be the youngest ATP final this year if De Minaur makes it. Combined ages would be two days older than the Aussie’s final in January at Sydney against Daniil Medvedev — the youngest ATP final since 20-year-old Rafael Nadal played 19-year-old Novak Djokovic in 2007 at Indian Wells.

Tsitsipas, 19, is ranked a career-high 32nd. He became the first Greek ATP finalist in 45 years in April at Barcelona and enjoyed the rise of the young guns this week.

“It’s good for the next generation,” Tsitsipas said. “I’d like to see this more often. I’m sure we’ll face each other for many years to come. It’s an evolution to the sport.”

Zverev broke in the third and fifth games of the opening set, which he took in 34 minutes with his third of five aces, the Greek slapping his forehand in frustration.

“I tried to rush him, play quicker so he’s not the one who’s playing aggressive,” Zverev said.

The German broke Tsitsipas again on his fourth chance during an epic 15-minute ninth game of the second set. Zverev held a final time to settle matters after 88 minutes.

“I had to be a bit more smart on my advantage points,” Tsitsipas said. “I got tight and I wanted to win it too badly. I will be learning from this.”

Kuznetsova reaches final 
In the companion WTA event, two-time Grand Slam champion Svetlana Kuznetsova of Russia won 6-2, 6-2 twice to reach the final, first downing Kazakh eighth seed Yulia Putintseva in a match that had been halted by rain then dispatching Germany’s Andrea Petkovic.

World number 128 Kuznetsova, the 2004 US Open and 2009 French Open champion as well as a 2014 Washington winner, will play for the title Sunday against either Croatian seventh seed Donna Vekic or China’s 85th-ranked Zheng Saisai.

Neither De Minaur nor Rublev has beaten Zverev, the Aussie falling in a Davis Cup fifth-set tie-breaker earlier this year and Rublev losing in straight sets in 2016 at Monaco and last year at Beijing.

Rublev, who won his only ATP title last year at Umag, beat American Denis Kudla 6-1, 6-4, in a quarter-final delayed from Friday by rain. Rublev, ranked 46th, only returned in July from a three-month layoff due to a lower back stress fracture.

De Minaur advanced by walkover when three-time Grand Slam champion Andy Murray withdrew Friday after his third gruelling three-set victory in four days. Murray was in only his third event back after an 11-month spell out of action due to a right hip injury.