Alexander Zverev is making all the right steps in his tennis education as he seeks to bridge the troublesome hurdle of replicating his tour-level form on the Grand Slam stage. Ability is not in doubt but the 21-year-old still has to solve the puzzle of success at the pinnacle of the sport.
The challenge for players to break through and take tennis to new heights is immense, as greats of the game in Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal continue to excel at the four majors and beyond but the gap isn’t insurmountable and Zverev leads the chasing pack.
Zverev secured a third Masters 1000 title with victory over Dominic Thiem – another protagonist vying for major triumph – in the Madrid Masters showpiece and the title in the Spanish capital brought the German into illustrious company.
Zverev joins greats of tennis after Madrid feat
Alexander Zverev became only the fifth active player to win three ATP Masters 1000 titles by defeating Dominic Thiem 6-4 6-4 at the Madrid Masters.
German joins Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer and Andy Murray.
He continued his excellent campaign on the red dirt, including a title on home soil in Munich, with a fine defence of his Rome title – which ended in defeat to Nadal after a weather-affected final.
His passage through the field at Foro Italico was not without its obstacles as he overcame three top-20 opponents, including in-form British No 1 Kyle Edmund, David Goffin and Marin Cilic.
“Even when I was tired, I still found a way against great players. And this is not easy to do,” said Zverev, after his defeat in the Rome final.
“This is one of the biggest tournaments that we have in the world. So finding a way to get to the finals after two tournaments that I won is something amazing for me.”
Zverev on clay this season
21-year-old holds a a 16-2 record during the European clay-court swing. His only two defeats have come against Kei Nishikori at Monte Carlo and Rafael Nadal in Rome.
The world No 3 has achieved a great deal since turning professional in 2014, after a successful junior career, but unmistakably his career took on a new dimension after victory over former world No 1 Novak Djokovic at the Rome Masters last year – his maiden Masters 1000 title.
A second career Masters crown would follow in Montreal, after emphatically brushing aside Federer, a result which saw the Swiss lose for the first time in a final that season. His consistent campaign was rewarded with a maiden appearance at the season-ending ATP Finals at the O2 in London.
Zverev began 2018, as world No 4, with renewed optimism after his previous season’s five Tour titles but despite pre-Australian Open backing, suffered a disappointing third-round exit to fellow highly-regarded player Hyeon Chung, who went on to reach the semi-finals.
Defeat to John Isner in the Miami Open final would see him end his American hard court swing on a disappointing note but back-to-back titles and winning streaks of 13 matches and 23 sets have underlined his standing in the game.
But there remain questions over his likelihood of major triumph in the near future, especially with Nadal and Federer still in town.
Zverev in 2018 Event Round Opponent Australian Open Third round Hyeon Chung ABN Amro World Tennis Tournament Second round Andreas Seppi Mexican Open Semi-finals Juan Martin del Potro Indian Wells Second round Joao Sousa Miami Open Final John Isner Monte-Carlo Masters Semi-finals Kei Nishikori BMW Open Champion Philipp Kohlschreiber Madrid Open Champion Dominic Thiem Rome Masters Final Rafael Nadal Why isn’t Masters Series success translating onto major scene?
As much as talent is crucial in tennis, the physical demands of five-set tennis at the Grand Slams can’t be undermined.
One of Federer’s greatest attributes in his resurgence since January 2017, after a six-month injury lay-off, has been his decision to successfully pinpoint tournaments to tailor his schedule – including skipping back-to-back French Open’s.
Some might argue Zverev is not in the same position to do the same but as the sport continues to become more demanding, following suit might prove to be a wise move in his quest to shine at the four Grand Slam tournaments.
After his five-set exit to Chung at Melbourne Park, Zverev was honest enough to highlight some mental frailties as a mitigating factor for his inability to perform to what his world ranking would suggest.
When asked if the problems were physical or mental, he said: “Definitely not physical, so… I have some figuring out to do, what happens to me in deciding moments in Grand Slams.
“It happened at Wimbledon. It happened in New York. It happened here. I’m still young, so I got time. I definitely have some figuring out to do for myself.”
His performances in three-set tennis continue to be impressive but many will be waiting to see if he answers his critics and produces a complete performance over the longer format, starting at the French Open.
Coaching set-up proving pivotal for Zverev
Zverev is coached by his father and their partnership through his burgeoning career has proved very fruitful. Last summer Juan Carlos Ferrero joined his camp but their relationship came to an abrupt end over an apparent disagreement.
Boris Becker emerged as potential replacement but those suggestions were quickly quashed by both, while Andy Murray’s two-time former coach Ivan Lendl was also backed as a candidate.
Sometimes too many voices can spoil the direction of a player’s path and his current set-up which includes Jez Green, former fitness coach to Murray, appears to be working perfectly.
Zverev possesses the game and stature, at 6ft 6in, to really make an imprint in the Grand Slams. Given his strong showing on the red dirt he should be brimming with confidence – inexperience is no longer an acceptable excuse.