Alexander Zverev began 2020 with three consecutive losses, which meant he had plenty of problems -- and plenty of time on his hands ahead of the Australian Open.
So he showed up early and got to work, spending up to seven hours a day practicing in the week before the decade's first Grand Slam tournament.
That extra time paid off. And how.
Zverev, a 22-year-old from Germany, reached his first major semifinal by overcoming a terrible start Wednesday at Melbourne Park and putting together a 1-6, 6-3, 6-4, 6-2 victory over three-time Grand Slam champion Stan Wawrinka.
“I hope,” Zverev said, “this will be the first of many.”
After ceding the opening set in 24 minutes, Zverev regrouped and recalibrated his strategy, using all of his 6-foot-6 (1.98-meter) frame to get to balls along the baseline and stretch points until Wawrinka faltered. It worked. Zverev's sometimes-shaky serve -- he was double-faulting once per game while losing all of his matches at the season-opening ATP Cup -- was suddenly terrific, and Wawrinka's barrel-chested baseline bashing weakened, as if he might be injured.
How bad were things earlier in January for Zverev?
“I've been struggling with my forehand, my backhand, my volleys, my drop shot, my return. My waking up in the morning. My everything,” he joked Wednesday. “It was not only my serve."
Zverev also was self-deprecating before his first-round match last week, saying that he knew he couldn't win the championship. After his opening victory, he pledged to donate all of the champion's prize money, a little more than 4 million Australian dollars — about $2.85 million — to relief efforts for the wildfires raging around the country if he were to go all the way.
Just two matches to go now.
Wawrinka's backhand is a one-handed tour de force that is not only his signature stroke but is among the most respected and feared shots in all of men's tennis. But it let him down on this day: He finished with five winners and 31 errors on that side, 18 unforced and 13 forced.
It all added up to Zverev getting to the final four at a major in his 19th appearance. He had been 0-2 in quarterfinals.
“I’ve done well in other tournaments ... but I never could break that barrier in a Grand Slam," he said.
On Friday, Zverev will take on No. 1 Rafael Nadal or No. 5 Dominic Thiem for a berth in the final. Nadal vs. Thiem was scheduled for Wednesday night local time. The other men's semifinal is Thursday, with defending champion Novak Djokovic facing 20-time major title winner Roger Federer for the 50th time.