Zverev loss in Munich highlights his consistent inconsistency

Alexander Zverev Munich
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It was not the homecoming that Alexander Zverev wanted. As the world #3 played in front of his home German crowd for the first time in years, Zverev slipped to a dismal 6-3 6-2 loss in Munich to Danish teenager Holger Rune. Just like that, the Bavarian International Tennis Championships lost its #1 seed.

While Rune’s level was superb throughout the match, the stats are nonetheless uncomfortable reading for Zverev. He won just half of his serve points, despite making 75% of his first serves. He did not hit a single ace and converted just one of seven break points.

By his own post-match admission, it was the worst tennis he has played in several years. The nerves of playing in his home country affected him greatly. But whatever the reason, this latest loss could hardly have come at a worst time.

With the French Open just weeks away, this poor performance again highlights his inconsistency this year. There’s little doubt that 2022 has so far been one of the most difficult seasons of his career. He has yet to win a title, and has made just one final in Montpellier, an upset loss to Alexander Bublik.

More disappointing is the lackluster manner of some of his defeats. He fell tamely to Denis Shapovalov in the Australian Open in January. More recently, he lost to Tommy Paul in the second round of Indian Wells, throwing away a 4-2 lead to surrender the decisive third set.

The same problems continue to hamper his game, and these were on full display against Rune. His second serve remains inconsistent. Despite his considerable power, he still resorts to defensive tennis too often. He lacks the variety needed to trouble consistent opponents on slower services.

Most troublingly, the mental aspect of his game remains volatile. Nerves are natural in a competitive sport, but furious outbursts have become too common. This behavior came to its worst point in Mexico, with his now-infamous racket-smashing incident against the umpire’s chair.  The punishment of an eight-week suspended ban and $25,000 fine was widely criticized as too lenient.

In short, it has been a tough few months for Zverev. It isn’t all bad news though–far from it. His recent semifinal run at Monte-Carlo, where he lost to eventual champion Stefanos Tsitspas, shows he has some clay court form. To reach that stage, he beat both Jannik Sinner and Pablo Carreño Busta, showing that he can beat top players.

Zverev must now find that consistency in the run-up to Roland Garros. The year’s second Grand Slam is shaping up to be one of the most open in years. Rafael Nadal is naturally the favorite, but his injury setback means he hasn’t stepped on a clay court this year. Novak Djokovic is battling for form in his stop-and-start season. Medvedev consistently struggles on clay, and is very outspoken about his dislike for the surface.

Zverev is right in the thick of a group of players well-placed to win their first Major, alongside the likes of Tsitsipas, Casper Ruud and even Carlos Alcaraz. But while those others are finding form at the right time, Zverev is slipping behind.

The upcoming Masters 1000 in Madrid gives him a chance to turn it around, and he needs to. As Zverev knows from his loss in Munich, his worse tennis won’t cut it.

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