Alexander Zverev’s recent form has left a lot to desire but with proper nurturing, he could turn the corner and live up to the fan expectations.
The domination by the Big Three (Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic) on the ATP circuit in the last decade or so is the strongest that there has probably ever been on the tour. The consistency exhibited by them extends to all surfaces, Grand Slams, ATP Masters 1000s and beyond. A large number of contenders have appeared on the tour only to be outperformed by the Big Three, who continue to reinvent themselves and return from any hiatus stronger than before.
With Roger Federer, in his late 30s, being more selective about the tournaments he plays, and Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic both in their 30s (and having had their fair share of breaks from the game), the last 12-18 months or so has seen an uprising in upcoming players, often coined as the ‘Next Gen’ (Next Generation).
This generation of players has exhibited promise, displayed fearless attitude and positive results on a somewhat consistent basis. Some of them have also scored victories against one or more members of the ‘Big Three’.
While there are a number of players looked upon as the ‘Next Gen’, the possible leader of the pack for a while has been 22-year old German Alexander ‘Sascha’ Zverev.
Born into a tennis family, where both parents played tennis professionally for the erstwhile Soviet Union and his older brother Mischa Zverev is currently also on the professional circuit, Sascha has always been destined for tennis greatness.
Sascha is a former world number 1 junior and won a junior Grand Slam singles title at the Australian Open in 2014. He had an early breakthrough becoming one of the youngest ATP challenger title winners, won two ATP titles as a teenager and was ranked within the top 20 when 20 years old.
Over the last two years, Zverev has gone from strength to strength, winning 10 ATP titles, including three ATP Masters 1000s as well as ending 2018 ranked number three in the world and winning the year end ATP Tour Finals in London.
Despite all his successes, the German has always seemed to falter in the Grand Slams, with the 2018 French Open quarter-final appearance being his best showing till date.
The belief has remained that it is only a question of time before the German begins to be a force at Grand Slams too. In late 2018, Sascha brought multiple time former Grand Slam winner Ivan Lendl into his team. Expectations have been that this was the missing piece that Zverev needed to step up his performance at the majors.
With the tour end finals victory, tennis enthusiasts and pundits alike believed that Lendl was already assisting Zverev soar to new heights and the trend would only continue into 2019.
2019 did not start on the best note for Zverev, with a straight set fourth round loss to Milos Raonic. This was followed by a decent performance at the Mexican Open before a humiliating loss at the hands of Aussie Nick Kyrgios.
Zverev’s season dipped to new lows thereafter, not winning more than one match at any of his next five tournaments with disappointing losses one after the other. While his ranking has now dropped to number four in the world, Zverev now goes into the rest of the clay season defending plenty of ATP ranking points.
A continued loss of form and confidence here would leave the German staring down a very uphill task in the second half of the year with the grass, hard court, and indoor seasons ahead.
While there are few murmurs now of the possibility of him soon joining the ranks of other also-rans, Zverev is also only 22 years of age with ample time to recover, mature and grow his career into a Grand Slam winner.
That being said, the sport can be cruel and in a very short period of time, one’s confidence and ranking can plummet to lows not thought of before. There remain numerous examples of players tipped for greatness and falling into slumps that seem hard to get out of.
Two recent examples that come to mind are Canadian Milos Raonic and more so Grigor Dimitrov. Both were ranked in the top five, with Dimitrov even being ranked as high as number three and winning the ATP Tour Finals in 2017 (analogous to Zverev).
A mix of disappointing results, fitness issues and drop in morale and confidence left such players in situations where aiming for the summit becomes more and more difficult over time.
Zverev is an all-court player who has a game suited to all surfaces. He is a good mover, uses his height well on the serve and has a powerful game.
With a strong team at his disposal, he has all that it takes to get his confidence and game back to where it was and above. The question remains more around ‘when’, than ‘how’. An extended period of poor form can be a huge dent in confidence. The rest of the tour continues to get more challenging with increased parity among players across ages, generations and surfaces.
As we go into a crucial summer with three Majors, and four Masters to play for, plenty of eyes will be on Zverev who must now take it one match at a time and every victory will be a step forward in increasing his confidence.
As the Big Three continue to enthrall tennis fans across the globe, and the rest of the tour gets closer to challenging them, Zverev’s return to form will bode well for the tennis fraternity.
Here is a gifted tennis player with a lot to offer to the sport and its fans, possibly for years to come and it will be a pity if the tennis world is deprived of that. Expect Zverev to return to form in the very near future and win his first Grand Slam title by 2020.