Zverev’s comeback win earns him a spot in the Italian Open final

Alexander Zverev beat Alejandro Tabilo to advance to the Italian Open final. (AP/Mark Baker)

ROME — For about an hour, Alexander Zverev had no answer to the rocket-like forehands and perfectly placed drop shots that Alejandro Tabilo kept producing on Rome’s red clay.

The fifth-ranked Zverev kept patient, though, and took his chance when it came as he rallied to beat his unheralded Chilean opponent 1-6, 7-6 (4), 6-2 on Friday for a spot in the Italian Open final.

“I was just hanging on the second set. I brought my energy up,” Zverev said. “He hit me off the court in the first set and I didn’t play well at all, but he was a big reason why. He gave me no rhythm.”

In Sunday’s final, Zverev will face another Chilean, Nicolas Jarry, who beat Tommy Paul 6-3, 6-7 (3), 6-3 on the American’s 27th birthday.

The 24th-ranked Jarry came back from a set down to eliminate Stefanos Tsitsipas in the quarterfinals and will be playing his first Masters Series final.

It was an appealing contrast in styles between the big-serving 6-foot-7 (2.01 meter) Jarry, who goes for a lot of his shots, and the more defensive-minded Paul, who grinds it out and likes to make his opponents play longer points.

Jarry required five match points to finish off Paul and ended up with 33 winners to his Paul’s 20, but also many more unforced errors — 49 to 15 — in a match that lasted nearly three hours.

“I go for it. And, if everything goes in, amazing,” Jarry said. “But it’s difficult to maintain.”

Zverev, the 2017 Rome champion, had the pinkie on his left hand bandaged following a fall in his previous match, after which he said his finger was “crooked.” The German plays right-handed but uses a two-handed backhand.

He said his pinkie was swollen and he was using painkillers.

“I tore a capsule. … But I didn’t break any bones,” Zverev said. “The finger is still very, very big. It was manageable.”

It’s Zverev’s third final in Rome. He won in 2017 by beating Novak Djokovic in straight sets for his first Masters Series title. He lost to Rafael Nadal in the title match a year later.

“I’ve been here before,” Zverev said. “I know what it takes and hopefully I can use that.”

Top-ranked Iga Swiatek will play No. 2 Aryna Sabalenka in the women’s final on Saturday.

Rome is the last big warmup before the French Open starts on May 26.

Zverev, who has disputed a penalty order from a German court over allegations that he caused bodily harm to a woman, faces a trial starting during Roland Garros. He said recently that he won’t attend the start of the trial.

Zverev leads 4-2 in his career meetings with Jarry but the series is tied 2-2 on clay.

“Nicolas is one of the most aggressive players we have on the tour,” Zverev said. “Obviously huge serve, huge forehand. Tries to hit big from both sides of the court.”

The 32nd-ranked Tabilo eliminated top-ranked Djokovic in the third round on Sunday and hadn’t dropped a set in the tournament until errors helped Zverev win the second-set tiebreaker. Zverev then took control early in the third.

Tabilo, who is a lefty, saved a break point midway through the first set with a slicing serve out wide to the ad court then produced three drop shots to serve out the set.

Zverev and Tabilo were born in the same year and played often as juniors when Tabilo represented Canada, where he was born.

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