Zverev falling fast
Sascha Zverev is either the new king of tennis or wallowing in a funk.
Remember when he won the Nitto ATP Tour Finals in London at the end of 2018? Remember how he outplayed Novak Djokovic, who had rolled through most opponents since Wimbledon.
Back then, many predicted that Zverev was going to dominate the sport after the eclipse of Federer, Djokovic and Rafael Nadal.
But he’s having a bad 2019 so far, and it’s not clear if it’s because of coaching, legal issues, dogs, injuries or maybe just bad luck.
There’s no need to panic, yet. He still has time to recover.
At age 21, he’s already won the ATP Tour Finals plus Masters 1000 titles in Rome, Montreal and Madrid. He’s beaten Federer three times, including the London semi-final. He also nearly beat peak Nadal on clay in the Rome final in 2018 before a weather delay turned momentum in Rafa’s favor.
But all of this means he has a lot of points to lose on the clay court swing In Munich, Madrid and Rome.
Some fans and media perceive Zverev as the arrogant epitomy of the pampered athlete. But others admire Zverev for being straight-forward and brutally honest about his issues with the newfangled Davis Cup (which he vows to skip) and the long, arduous tour calendar.
Statuesque and majestic on court, Zverev often carries the air of an heir apparent. He expects perfection, and though his smashed racquets often suffer for it, he’s working hard to be the best.
With Ivan Lendl as his coach, Zverev was hitting the ball with more purpose and authority. Like Andy Murray under Lendl, Zverev amped up his forehand side. He’s worked hard to develop a net game that comes more easily to his older brother Misha. In London, he was routinely serving over 130 mph, with the speed gun clocking some above 140.
While Federer and others have urged Zverev to play closer to the baseline, he’s found success playing deep to maximize his height and reach to cover the court and wind up with big, powerful swings that are increasingly hitting opponents off the court. His double-handed backhand, among the best ever in tennis, allows him to dominate the middle without giving up court to hit run-around forehands.
If a maturing Zverev can remain healthy and improve consistency and concentration over two-week Grand Slams, he could reach number one even before the retirements of the Big Four. But for now, he has to focus on winning one match at a time.
(words and images copyright Christopher Johnson Globalite Media all rights reserved)