Washington (AP) — Seems safe to say Alexander Zverev has never hugged an opponent quite the way he did after beating older brother Mischa 6-3, 7-5 to reach the Citi Open quarterfinals Thursday night in their first ATP main-draw match against each other.
Alexander, 21, is seeded No. 1 and the defending champion at the hard-court tuneup for the U.S. Open. Mischa, who turns 31 in a few weeks, was seeded No. 15. They had met twice before in qualifying matches, most recently in 2014, but never during the real rounds of a tournament.
“It was just fun,” Mischa said. “That’s all I can say.”
The dynamics were a bit different from a usual match. They both know the other’s on-court strengths and weaknesses so well. There wasn’t much emotion from either man. And not much cheering from spectators, who maybe had a hard time picking which Zverev to pull for. Instead of using simply a last name to refer to a player, the normal practice, the chair umpire used first names, too. As in: “Game, Sascha Zverev,” using Alexander’s nickname.
The most interaction between the siblings came during a 15-minute rain delay in the second set, when they exchanged a few words about whether or not play should resume — and then when the last point arrived. Alexander hit a short shot that Mischa chased but put into the net. Mischa continued around to the other side and walked up to Alexander for a lengthy embrace.
They shared some words, then walked off the court together, and Mischa grabbed Alexander by the scruff of the neck.
This was not quite Zverev vs. Zverev in a Wimbledon final, as they had dreamed about and pretended to play a decade ago in their backyard. Still, it was a unique moment, with their father, Alexander Sr. — the man who taught both how to play tennis and coaches them to this day — sitting in a front-row seat in a corner of the stadium.
It was by far the most intriguing matchup on another dreary, rainy day, when play began about 3 1/2 hours late because of a shower.
A weary-looking John Isner hit serves in the low 90s mph and was broken twice in the opening set during a 6-4, 7-6 (6) loss to 152nd-ranked Noah Rubin in the second round. The No. 2-seeded Isner was coming off a title in Atlanta last week and a semifinal run at Wimbledon last month. Isner credited Rubin with having more energy.
Their all-American matchup was supposed to be played Wednesday, but was postponed because of a thunderstorm.
Rubin, whose right sneaker fell apart during a point in the second set, was scheduled to play his third-round match later Thursday against 16th seed Andrey Rublev.
Alex de Minaur eliminated No. 11 Steve Johnson 6-4, 7-5, and No. 10 Stefanos Tsisipas beat James Duckworth 6-3, 6-4.
In the women’s draw, Nao Hibino withdrew before her match against No. 6 seed Belinda Bencic because of an injured abdominal muscle. Two-time major champion Svetlana Kuznetsova won, as did No. 7 seed Donna Vekic, who edged Fanny Stollar 6-2, 3-6, 7-6 (13).
The Zverevs’ contest was the first brother vs. brother match on tour since Gerald Melzer beat Jurgen Melzer in the quarterfinals at Kitzbuhel, Austria, two years ago.
Mischa is ranked No. 42, is a lefty, likes to go to the net and is 6-foot-3.
Alexander is No. 3, a righty, prefers baseline exchanges and is 6-foot-6.
What they have in common is so compelling.
While there have been some famous sets of siblings in tennis — the Williams sisters and McEnroe brothers come to mind immediately, of course — it is rather rare for two people from one family to reach the highest level of any professional sport. Consider this: When each Zverev reached the third round at the French Open in June, they were the first pair of brothers to make it that far in Paris in 39 years.
The Zverevs have helped each other along the way, practicing together for years. They’re also doubles partners in Washington.
“On the practice court, when we played, it was always serious,” Alexander said. “It was never like, ‘Oh, he’s younger than me, so I’m just going to give him a few points here and a few points there.’ When he could, he would try to beat me 6-0, 6-1.”