With a 54-17 tour-level record this year, Alexander Zverev came back to London needing one match win to equal his personal best total of 55 victories achieved last year. The German sealed the second consecutive appearance at the ATP World Tour Finals on a high note, as he reached in Paris the seventh quarter-finals (or better) in nine Masters 1000 events in 2018.
"Obviously it's great to finally officially make it and obviously be part of the eight best again, which is an elite group, which is kind of the goal for everyone at the beginning of the season," he said. "So I'm very pleased to be in London again, get another opportunity to play there for the second year in a row.
I'm looking forward to that tournament". The youngest Top 10 in the world ranking did not drop a set or his serve en route to the title in Madrid. Defeating Thiem, Zverev became the first player to win a clay-court title without being broken since those stats started being kept in 1991.
He joined Nadal (33), Djokovic (31), Federer (27) and Murray (14) as active players with three or more ATP Masters 1000 titles. He had preceded Madrid with Munich title (d. Kohlschreiber) and followed it with the Rome title-match (l.
to Nadal): he was the first player since Cilic in 2014 to reach three tour-level finals in as many weeks. He also advanced to the final in Miami (l. to Isner in 3 sets) and squandered two match points against fellow Next Gen Tsitsipas in Toronto in the quarter-finals.
At Grand Slam level, he rallied from 2-sets-to-1 down three times to reach his maiden major quarter-final at Roland Garros, losing to Thiem struggling with a thigh injury. In Paris, he saved a match point to Dzhumhur in the third round for his 150th tour-level win.
By defeating Dusan Lajovic, the Bosnian and Karen Khachanov, coming back from 1-2 down in each of those matches, Zverev became the eighth man in the Open Era to win three consecutive 5-set matches at Roland Garros, and the first to come back three times in the same major since Tommy Robredo recovered from two sets down in three consecutive 5-set matches in Paris in 2013.
By reaching the quarterfinals here, Zverev became the seventh German man in the Open Era to reach the quarterfinals at Roland Garros – and only the second since 1996 (when Bernd Karbarcher and Stich both reached the last 8) after Haas in 2013.
But he lost in the third round at Australian Open (l. to Chung), Wimbledon (l. to Gulbis) and US Open (l. to Kohlschreiber), and is waiting yet for his maiden top 10 victory at Grand Slam level after five consecutive defeats. Winning most matches on tour, he said reporters in Shanghai, "means a lot to me, because I have played only the biggest tournaments.
I have played one 250 this year. I have won matches in big events, so this means a lot. Obviously, I don't want to stop here. There is still a lot more tennis going on till the end of the year. I'm in semifinals now, and I obviously don't want to be satisfied just yet".
He feels more assured and matured, he added. "Last year was the first time I kind of broke through to the top 10 and was a top 5 player. You know, it's always easier to kind of get there, but then staying there is always the tougher part.
You know, kind of solidifying that I am a top 5 player this year, and obviously with Novak coming back, winning two Grand Slams, and other players like Del Potro playing great again, it was a much tougher year, for sure, but I feel like I'm a better player".
In 2018, he also defeated older brother Mischa in their first tour-level meeting en route to clinching the second straight Washington title (d. de Minaur). From Mischa, he said in a press conference in Shanghai, he learned positive things and, at the same time, not to repeat the mistakes he's done in the past.
"To see kind of somebody that's kind of already been through it is very helpful obviously. He's been on tour for ten-plus years already, and seeing what he does, seeing how professional you have to be to be on top of the game.
Because there have been some years that he hasn't been at the standard that he is now and you drop a lot immediately in tennis, kind of. You know, doesn't give you a lot of room. You have to really always be on top of your game and really always try to be as professional and as good as you can be".
Having Ivan Lendl on his side started to pay its dividends in the Asian swing. "In Beijing, I arrived there on Tuesday and I was already training every single day for four, five hours a day and also through the tournament through the matches we trained, and we thought this was a good schedule," Zverev said after the intense sessions in the Chinese capital which contributed to his results in Shanghai.
Zverev ranks 19th among the Serve Leaders but, according to the ATP Leaderboard, he's been the eight best returners on tour in the last 52 weeks. Last October, Craig O'Shannessy on the ATP website noted that he had the second highest first serve return points from the deuce court T location among the Top 10 right-handers.
Zverev, he wrote, "actually targeted more backhand returns to the Deuce court, but when it was directed down the line to the Ad court, he enjoyed the highest win percentage of the group to the specific location".
In under-pressure situations, instead, he's ranked 24th, with a 13-10 record in deciding sets and a 13-6 record in tiebreaks. The German won six of the 11 matches that lasted more than two hours and a half this season, looking particularly effective when he started as a front-runner as he won 47 matches to six defeats after winning the opening set.
In London, he will complete the Group Guga Kuerten with Novak Djokovic, Marin Cili, and John Isner. He's tied at 1-1 with the Serb and owns reassuring head to head records with the other contenders as he's 5-1 ahead against Cilic and 4-1 up against Isner.
However, he said in Paris, "I do hope at some point the ATP will realize that tennis players can't play for 11 months a year and that we actually need time to take for our bodies and actually rest. [You] can have a long career as well because you can take care of yourself.
You can prepare yourself. And if you do it in a different way, you can actually make the same amount of money. The tournaments can be bigger, tournaments can be different as well. We can have bigger tournaments more often. But as I said, us top players, if we play longer and play basically the 20th of November, which gives us not a lot of time to prepare".