Zverev beats Auger-Aliassime in Cologne to end title wait

Alexander Zverev
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Updated 18 October 2020

Zverev beats Auger-Aliassime in Cologne to end title wait

  • Alexander Zverev has had a breakthrough year in Grand Slam tournaments with his first semifinal at the Australian Open in January

COLOGNE: Alexander Zverev ended his 17-month wait for a title by drawing on the pain of his US Open final defeat to beat Felix Auger-Aliassime 6-3, 6-3 and win the Cologne Indoors on Sunday.

Zverev has had a breakthrough year in Grand Slam tournaments with his first semifinal at the Australian Open in January and first final at the US Open last month, when he lost to Dominic Thiem. Zverev has said he thinks almost constantly about that final, and he credited it with raising his game in Cologne.

“I had a very tough final in New York and, the next final I played here, I wanted to come out and play my best tennis,” he said.

The German hadn’t played the final of any regular ATP Tour events in 2020 until Sunday. Zverev’s previous title was at the clay-court Geneva Open in May 2019 and he is now 12-8 in career finals.

Zverev broke Auger-Aliassime’s serve in the first game of the match to establish early control. Zverev broke in the second at 3-2 and saved two break points in his next service game to hold off a fightback from the Canadian.

Auger-Aliassime is still waiting for his first career title after losing six finals in two seasons, all of them in straight sets. All three of the finals that the 20-year-old Canadian has played this year have been on indoor hard courts.

Zverev said he and Auger-Aliassime had bonded while practicing together in Monaco during the coronavirus pandemic, and he predicted a bright future for the Canadian. “You’re going to be lifting a winner’s trophy very, very soon,” Zverev said.

In another tennis event, Serbia’s Laslo Djere ousted home hope Marco Cecchinato in two sets to win his second ATP title in the Sardinia Open.

Djere, 25, won 7-6 (7/3), 7-5 against the Italian wildcard, having also previously won on clay in Rio de Janeiro last year.

The 74th-ranked Serb held off a fightback from 28-year-old Cecchinato in the second set to win through after 2hr 19min.

“It’s tough losing a final but I leave here with so many positive things because now I am coming back to the Top 100,” said Cecchinato, the 2018 French Open semifinalist.

The former world No. 16 had been bidding for his fourth career title.


City lacking usual spark amid injuries, fixture pile-up

Updated 26 October 2020

City lacking usual spark amid injuries, fixture pile-up

  • Sympathy is usually in short supply when it comes to Man City and the debate over workload

LONDON: Manchester City’s weary players boarded a plane to France on Monday, the southern city of Marseille being the latest stop on their grueling and seemingly interminable fixture schedule in a pandemic-disrupted season like no other.

There will have been no senior strikers on the flight, with Sergio Aguero injured again and joining Gabriel Jesus back in the treatment room.

Star midfielder Kevin De Bruyne will be on board, recently back from injury and fresh from protestations about the workload being forced on soccer players this season.

Whether Aymeric Laporte, City’s defensive lynchpin, will play in the Champions League match at the Stade Velodrome on Tuesday is in the balance after his run of fitness issues.

“I try to demand everything from my players,” City manager Pep Guardiola said at the weekend, “but there is a limit for human beings.”

Sympathy is usually in short supply when it comes to Man City and the debate over workload and fixture congestion.

“It’s the richest club in the world,” is a typical retort. And most would say it’s a perfectly reasonable one, given City spent more than £100 million  ($130 million) on two center backs in the offseason, one of whom is purely seen a backup.

Yet, it is hard to escape the fact that City’s performances have rarely looked flatter and more predictable under Guardiola than they have since the start of the season.

In short, being the busiest team in English soccer in recent years appears to be taking its toll.

A 1-1 draw at West Ham in the Premier League on Saturday has left City in 13th place and on eight points — their lowest tally after five games since 2014.

Only five teams have scored fewer goals in the Premier League than City’s eight, so even an attack that season after season creates more chances than any other team is misfiring by its usual high standards.

Of course, it doesn’t help when Guardiola is without a recognized striker — Jesus got injured in the first game of the season, and Aguero has broken down three games into his return from four months out — but there’s more to it than that.

“We don’t have enough preparation in our legs throughout the whole squad,” the City manager said, referring to the fact his players had an offseason just two weeks long owing to the late finish to last season because of their involvement in the last eight of the Champions League in August.

“Of course, it’s too much,” Guardiola added while raising concerns about the “mental state" of some of the players. “It’s not more difficult to understand than this.”

City are coming off a 54-week campaign in the 2019-20 season that was interrupted by the three-month suspension of soccer because of the coronavirus outbreak.

Over the past two seasons, the team have played 120 games in all competitions — more than any other in England’s top flight. This season, which started a month later than normal, City have been playing a match every three or four days aside from the international breaks, and will continue to do so until January. Even when club soccer stops for internationals, players can feature in as many as three games for their countries, potentially in a six-day span.

“Your body is screaming out for a rest but nobody listens to the players,” De Bruyne said in an interview with Sky Sports during the most recent international break, when he picked up a muscle injury. “Everyone says, ‘They earn good money, they’ve just got to manage.’ And that’s it, I can put up with those comments.

“(But) I can see a wave of injuries coming for a lot of players, trust me. I always give 100 percent, I can’t play at 80 percent.”

De Bruyne said he had just “eight or nine days off” in the offseason and was unable to take a holiday because his wife was pregnant.

“If I keep going until the end of the season,” he said, “I will have been playing for two years without a rest.”

It begs the question why Guardiola chose to field an unchanged starting team — the first time he has done so since October 2017 — against West Ham on Saturday lunchtime, given the fixture congestion and his concerns over workload.

After all, City had to work hard for their  3-1 win over Porto on Wednesday evening. Raheem Sterling, for example, has played 90 minutes in each of City’s last three games and is set to be relied on heavily as a makeshift striker in the absence of Aguero and Jesus.

City have at least made a winning start to its Champions League group. And, despite their slow start in the league, could only be two points off the lead if the team win their game in hand.

Guardiola is into his fifth, and possibly last, year in charge and hasn't given any clues over whether he intends to stay beyond his season.

If he is to add to his collection of trophies won at City since 2016, don’t expect them to come easily this season.