Alexander Zverev had to put on a show of strength in his first match at the Australian Open. The German number 1 defeated the lucky loser Juan Pablo Varillas from Peru in five sets.

Alexander Zverev’s return to the big tennis stage was a success after a fighting performance. Seven and a half months after his serious ankle injury, the Olympic champion beat Juan Pablo Varillas of Peru 4:6, 6:1, 5:7, 7:6 (7:3), and 6:4 at the Australian Open after more than four hours.

Seven and a half months after his serious foot injury in the French Open semi-final, Zverev’s lack of match practice was noticeable. After a weak first set, the Hamburg player improved, but in the third set, there was a break in the game of the world number 13, who brought the clay court specialist Varillas back into the match with errors and a lack of concentration.

After that, Zverev was called upon to be a fighter – and the 2020 Australian Open semi-finalist took it brilliantly. First, he won the critical fourth set in a tie-break, then he took his second match point to make it 6-4, with 4:06 hours finally on the clock.

“I’m happy with the match and happy to have progressed,” Zverev said after the duel. It was clear to him that “I won’t go through in three sets after such a long break.” However, the 25-year-old was surprised at how strongly his opponent played. “He put so much pressure on both sides and served strongly,” said Zverev.

Ankle holds: “My foot is healthy”.

The focus on Zverev’s return to the big stage was of course also on his ankle and his fitness. “My foot is healthy, it wasn’t like that when I was training in Allgäu and it wasn’t like that in Sydney either,” Zverev said about his complicated ankle injury. He added that he does not know how he will physically survive the monster match at the start of the Australian Open. “It could be that I surprise myself and I feel totally fine, but I won’t know until tomorrow.”

First German win in Melbourne

In doing so, he also broke the spell and provided the first win after seven German opening defeats. Jan-Lennard Struff had previously been beaten by US favourite Tommy Paul 1:6, 6:7 (6:8), 2:6.

In the second round, the Hamburg player will meet Laurent Lokoli from France or Michael Mmoh from the USA on Thursday. Here, too, Zverev could have been worse off, because on Tuesday the 50th-ranked player in the world, David Goffin from Belgium, withdrew at short notice due to illness. Mmoh replaced him as the lucky loser.