If you asked any tennis fan, pundit, or expert in 2016 and 2017 who might be the player capable of putting end to the dominance of the big three in the ATP, Alexander Zverev would have surely been mentioned.
Zverev climbed the rankings spectacularly in 2015 and 2016. Winning titles as a teenager. Regularly beating the top players. Dominating on serve. These were all hallmarks of Alexander Zverev and his potential in the world of tennis. Now, we cut to today.
The 22-year-old was, of course, representing Germany at the ATP Cup as its #1 singles player. Currently ranked #7 in the world ,the emphasis was on Zverev to lead Germany out of a tough group.
Zverev gave some fairly confusing comments at the ATP Cup in which he said that he was ready for the tournament. This despite having a shortened off-season due to the number of exhibitions he played. In the same interview though he said that “I only started playing tennis a week ago, pretty much, so I don’t have a lot of tennis practice yet, which I will build up.” However, he then talked up Germany’s chances of going all the way in the ATP Cup.
Poor ATP Cup Campaign
Starting his campaign against Alex De Minaur of Australia Zverev showed his fans all his skill and talent, blazing to a position which left him a set and a break up. However, he allowed De Minaur to battle his way back into the match. De Minaur is certainly the type of player capable of doing this to anyone, but the extent of the drop-off from Zverev was alarming. Fourteen double faults were hit in the collapse.
The German followed this up by winning only nine games in two matches against Stefanos Tsitsipas and Denis Shapovalov. Ten double faults and a 45% first serve percentage against the Greek was followed by seven doubles and 54% first serve percentage against the Canadian. Combine this with only 14% and 9% of points won on first return respectively in the matches and it is a recipe for huge concern for fans of Alexander Zverev.
De Minaur, Tsitsipas and Shapovalov are, of course, fine players. Any of those players could, and maybe will win grand slam events in their careers. Any of them could end 2020 ranked inside the top 5 or 10 players in the world. However, they are all younger than Zverev and they are the men in the position now that Zverev found himself in 2017/2018 as “the next big thing”.
The Myriad Problems in the Zverev Game
The list of problems appears to grow with every match. The first serve. The second serve. Mental weakness. Physical fitness in long matches. The coaching setup.
The talent of Alexander Zverev is never in question. He certainly also has the physique to hit the type of shots required to be at the top of the game. However, the decline in his results is real (see graph below) and the facts are there in the performance data that his game has gone downhill.
The coaching situation is a telling sign of disharmony. Firstly, Zverev’s parents delivered him to the top of the game. To take the next level he employed Juan Carlos Ferrero in 2017. Ferrero was dismissed after being critical of the set-up and then Ivan Lendl came in. Results got worse, personal issues came to the fore and Lendl left the camp in 2019. Boris Becker was the man in the coaching box in Australia this week, but Zverev was noticeably bad-tempered, argumentative and, at times, quite abusive to his own box. His father was in tears after a particularly fiery exchange during his defeat to Stefanos Tsitsipas. It appears that there needs to be some kind of resolution to these tensions before Zverev can move forward with his game.
Preparation for Australian Open
The ATP Cup is only the first event of the season though. The benefit of the doubt can be given, especially Zverev said himself that he was only on his seventh day of tennis. He can simply view the previous three matches as high-level practice for the Australian Open.
The problem is that so much needs to be improved in such a short space of time to be ready for the first major tournament of the season. It is very difficult to see Zverev in contention for the Australian Open. Perhaps not even any Grand Slam event in 2020.
The German needs to find inspiration from somewhere soon or his ranking will begin to slip. From being a consistent member of the top five he may find himself outside of the top ten very soon. The only saving grace may be that Zverev only won one tournament last year so isn’t defending a massive number of points.
That this should even be talked about for a player such as Zverev is an indictment in itself. The tennis world looks on with interest to see how Zverev can turn things around.