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Alexander Zverev, the third man of tennis

By Guillaume Willecoq   on   Tuesday 15 August 2017
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Travelling in the slipstream of resurgent giants Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, 20-year-old Alexander Zverev has emerged as a force on the world scene. Breaking through exactly ten years after Novak Djokovic announced himself to the world, can the young German kick on and do what the Serb has done?

With two thirds of the season now gone, the ATP Race to London has more to say than the ATP Rankings themselves. And nowhere are they more revealing than in the case of world No7 Alexander Zverev, who now lies third in the Race following his Masters 1000 win in Montreal at the weekend.

The only players ahead of the German, who turned 20 three months ago, are revitalised legends Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. The dynamic duo have won virtually everything this season, with the 2013 junior world No1 the only one to have shown any sign of keeping pace with them. The only player to have denied them major titles this year, in which he has triumphed in Rome as well as Canada, Zverev is also the only player to have joined them in climbing the rankings in a season that has seen injury strike down the strong men of 2016 (Novak Djokovic, Stanislas Wawrinka and Andy Murray), perennial challengers Milos Raonic and Kei Nishikori and promising young guns such as Nick Kyrgios.

A 78% win rate and six titles

Less than a year after collecting his maiden ATP title in St Petersburg, at the end of last season, Zverev now has six to his name, having won indoors in Montpellier and on clay in Munich (both ATP250 events) and sandwiched his Masters 1000 victories in Rome and Montreal with an ATP500 triumph on hard court in Washington. In proving he can win on all surfaces, he has posted 57 wins and 16 defeats since St Petersburg (a win rate of 78%), while his 2017 record is 46-13.

By mid-August he had already put together the best season by a teenager since Djokovic burst on to the scene in 2007, a season that has put him hard on the heels of Federer and Nadal. The young German is also the first player outside the “Big Four” to lift two Masters 1000 titles in the same year since David Nalbandian scored a Madrid/Paris indoor double in 2007.

Zverev has collected some notable scalps this year: Federer in the final in Montreal, Djokovic in the final in Rome, Wawrinka in Miami, Marin Cilic and Tomas Berdych in Madrid, Raonic in Rome and Nishikori in Washington. Only Nadal has evaded his clutches, though the German has come mightily close in two of their three meetings to date, holding a match point against the Spaniard at Indian Wells last year and leading him by two sets to one at the Australian Open earlier this year before caving in, a match the Nadal entourage described as “key” to his successful season.

Yet to make a mark in Grand Slams

In contrast to Djokovic’s breakthrough season of a decade ago, the only negative aspect of Zverev’s rise is his Grand Slam performances. Still relatively slight of build – measuring 1.98m tall and weighing 86kg – the baby-faced “Sascha” has yet to string convincing performances together when it comes to the best of five sets, as his underwhelming Grand Slam results this season show: a third-round exit at the Australian, a first-round elimination at the French and a run to the last 16 at Wimbledon, where, after again going two sets to one up, he went out to Raonic, albeit in slightly less dramatic fashion than he did against Nadal in Melbourne. Scaling the Grand Slam heights remains the young German’s next challenge, though he has the right people around him to do it. His next opportunity to follow in the mighty footsteps taken by Djokovic ten years ago will come at the US Open.

Alexander Zverev
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