MELBOURNE: Alexander Zverev rued a series of missed opportunities in his Australian Open semi-final defeat to Dominic Thiem on Friday, but left the tournament satisfied with his game's overall progress.
The German seventh seed went into the match trailing Thiem 6-2 in previous meetings and had lost both his Grand Slam clashes against the Austrian at Roland Garros.
Yet despite playing his first Grand Slam semi-final, he was undaunted, pushing Thiem all the way before losing 3-6 6-4 7-6(3) 7-6(4).
What ultimately separated the players was Zverev's inability to make his chances count, as he converted five of the 14 breakpoints he created.
"I had a lot of chances. I had 14 breakpoints. That should be plenty," he said. "In the important moments, I didn't play my best. He did. That's where the match kind of went his way.
"We've had a lot of tight moments, four tight sets. In the third set I had set points. In the fourth set, I had chances.
"Just got to execute better next time. But credit to him. He's playing unbelievable tennis right now."
After an early trade of breaks, Zverev quickly imposed himself on the match by breaking Thiem twice more to win the first set at a canter.
Thiem, however, put his experience to good use, having played two Grand Slam finals at Roland Garros, and held his nerve better, especially during the tiebreaks.
Zverev's nerves were severely tested as he suffered his first minibreak in the fourth set tiebreaker with a massive fault on his second serve and then hit anther horrendous overhead volley that missed the lines by a few metres.
The Zverev of the old was infamous for his racquet-smashing antics but the new, happier Zverev in Melbourne Park kept his cool.
"It was a great tournament, great match today. I don't know. I came to this tournament different. I didn't play my best. I went step by step, match by match. Usually I didn't do that in Grand Slams," he said.
"Maybe I can take that away, but right now I'm still a little bit disappointed about the match."
Once considered the most likely to end the Grand Slam hegemony of Roger Federer, Rafa Nadal and Novak Djokovic, the 2018 ATP Finals champion was confident about his future after his Australian Open performance.
"Everybody has their own path. I want to have my own way. I want to have my own path. I want to be the best I can be," he said. "This I still need to prove to people."
(Reporting by Sudipto Ganguly; editing by Toby Davis)