First Grand Slam quarter-final 'isn't the end' for Zverev

by Jed Court
Roar of delight: Alexander Zverev celebrates after reaching his maiden Grand Slam quarter-final

Second seed Alexander Zverev said Sunday he hopes a first-ever Grand Slam quarter-final at the French Open doesn't signal the end of his Roland Garros challenge.

The 21-year-old is seen as perhaps the biggest threat to Rafael Nadal's bid for an 11th title in Paris and has risen to third in the world rankings.

But despite winning three Masters titles including two on clay, he had yet to reach the last eight at a major tournament until beating Karen Khachanov in five sets on Sunday.

Zverev also arrived at Roland Garros last year with high expectations after winning the Italian Open, only to slump to a first-round defeat by Fernando Verdasco, before further early exits at the US Open and the Australian Open in January.

"In two days' time I will be playing in the quarter-finals here, and I'm happy about that," said the German, after fighting back from two sets to one down for the third straight match by beating Khachanov 4-6, 7-6 (7/4), 2-6, 6-3, 6-3.

"But I hope I can win more matches here. I hope this is not the end here.

"Physically, obviously it's not easy to play, you know, back-to-back-to-back five-set matches, but I will manage it somehow. I will do everything."

Zverev has been the poster boy for the ATP's 'NextGen' young players, who were criticised earlier this week by Italian Fabio Fognini for struggling to make their mark on the biggest stage.

But now that Zverev has finally shaken the tag of failing to perform at the Grand Slams -- his previous best was a fourth-round appearance at Wimbledon last July -- he says that the youngsters have the likes of 20-time major champion Roger Federer and Nadal in their sights.

"I think us young players all are improving quite quickly, and I think we are all trying to get better," he said.

"I'm top three in the world now. I think other young guys are coming up strong. I think in the end we'll be very high soon.

"I think with time we will see who can become the next Grand Slam champion, who can become the next world number one.

"But right now, Roger and Rafa are dominating, but we are doing everything we can to change that."

Zverev has entertained both on and off the court so far in the French capital, winning three straight five-setters, while also stealing headlines for his humorous exchange with a reporter from Yorkshire over his accent.

Often witty, although sometimes spiky, in his press conferences, he has brought a breath of fresh air to a French Open missing big stars Federer and Andy Murray, while Stan Wawrinka was knocked out in the first round.

When asked if he was happy to finally reach a Grand Slam quarter-final, he sarcastically joked: "I'm very pissed off about it. I want to be home right now."

If he can reproduce the form he showed in the last two sets against Khachanov, Zverev -- looking to become the first German man to win the title since 1937 -- won't be heading home any time soon.

Roar of delight: Alexander Zverev celebrates after reaching his maiden Grand Slam quarter-final