Last year’s ATP Finals title was a breakthrough win for Alexander Zverev that capped off a two year stretch of remarkable progress. Combined with collecting three Masters 1000 trophies, beating two of the Big 3 in 2017, in Rome (Novak Djokovic) and Canada (Roger Federer), it seemed as if the German was in the process of taking over the mantle from the three titans of tennis.
He’d even signed one of the most successful coaches around, legend Ivan Lendl, who had helped Andy Murray translate his talents to slam success. But Zverev’s follow up to winning the ATP Finals last year has been to put in an uneven year.
He’s faced upheavals in his personal life that have distracted his momentum. Perhaps the biggest sign for Zverev’s downward spiral was his decision to part ways with Lendl, signifying that the long-promised slam breakthrough is still summit too difficult to climb.
Despite all this, he’s managed to make the Top 8 contenders in London, against all odds.
"To finish the year in the top 10 by not playing his best tennis is a great achievement,” said former world No. 4 Nicolas Kiefer about Sascha.Zverev has had to overcome the slam glass ceiling that Federer, Rafael Nadal, and Djokovic have maintained for close to two decades now.
“I hope he can get it together for 2020 because if I can pick a player that I think that can make it, then it would be Sascha”.
It’s been difficult for anyone to crash their party, Zverev not-withstanding. So far, his best slam result remains the French Open quarterfinals he reached this year and last. The Monte-Carlo resident came up against a resilient Novak Djokovic in that quarterfinal this year, but the 22-year-old put in a tough first set, which he showed moments of potentially winning.
The way he lost that close first set is one of the main criticisms of the talented player: that oftentimes he lacks the killer mental attitude to close out the bigger wins. “Two years ago, when I had my breakthrough season and I played here for the first time, I didn’t expect to make it here as quickly.
Daniil [Medvedev], with the year he has had, has been amazing, but it’s maybe been a little bit of a surprise for people. I think we’ll see more surprises to come,” said Alexander Zverev in London, according to ATP.
There were flashes of that tough mental fortitude at last year’s ATP Finals, where Zverev managed the impossible: first defeating six-time Finals winner Federer, followed up with the decisive win over Novak Djokovic in the final for the biggest title of his career.
No one had defeated both of them in the same tournament in ten years, with Zverev the youngest to do so since Djokovic claimed his first ATP Final at age 21. Both have qualified for Finals again, as well as Nadal, who is seeking his own first title.
Zverev now owns a winning record over Federer (4-3), but a close losing record to Djokovic (2-3), but has never bested the Spaniard in five tries. Zverev’s year hasn’t been all disappointments. He won one title in Geneva and made two more finals in Mexico and Shanghai, running into Daniil Medvedev during the Russian’s hot streak.
He also clocked in the pivotal win at the Laver Cup in September, in a team format he excels at, and with some famous coaching done by Federer and Nadal. Making the final in China will perhaps give him an added dose of confidence to defend his title.
His first match will be against Nadal, who he has never beaten, but where he as good a chance as any with the world No. 1 not quite at 100% yet after dealing with an abdominal injury. Boris Becker has also been closely observing Zverev in his practices.
Both have been downplaying his presence, but perhaps the two Germans will end up working together after all, with the three-time Wimbledon champion perhaps a better fit than Lendl was. There’s never been any doubt of Sascha Zverev’s talent, but after watching the difference in resolve after the famous Fedal pep talk at the Laver Cup, finding the right coach will probably make all the difference in helping him maintain his focus.
Right now he’ll be facing his biggest hurdle yet, a fighter named Nadal, hell-bent on keeping his number one ranking until the year-end. But Zverev spoke about the potential changing of the guard in London.
“The next two or three years will be very exciting as you’ll still have the Big 3, who are still consistently better than us — a true fact, and the young guys, who are improving quite quickly,” said Zverev.Alexander Zverev faces Rafael Nadal in the first round robin on Monday evening at the 02 Arena, with a lot on the line for both: Zverev looking to defend his title, and Nadal defending his No. 1 ranking. Photo Credit: Philippe Montigny/FFT