Can Alexander Zverev reach the top of men's tennis?
Alexander Zverev is definitely a top notch player and the leader of the 'Next Gen'. His stability and work ethic have helped him leapfrog all the other upcoming youngsters, and reach as high as World No. 3.
Zverev's win at the ATP Finals wasn't an easy feat as he had to dig deep to beat Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic back to back. That he managed to get past both of them in such confident fashion sent shockwaves around the tennis world.
The courts used at the O2 in London for the ATP Finals were comparatively slower than the previous year. That helped Zverev tremendously as Federer's half-volleyed shots weren't a great danger and John Isner's massive serve wasn't a huge weapon.
Since Zverev is a back-court player, he was able to adapt his game quite comfortably throughout the tournament. To add to that, Djokovic had already clinched the year-end No. 1 ranking when Rafael Nadal pulled out due to injury, so the Serb didn't have as great motivation to win the tournament as he would otherwise have had.
Djokovic dismantled Zverev in the round robin stage but looked very tired in the finals, especially after losing the first set. All these things considered, it is debatable whether Zverev's win in London was a real sign of his future.
The main argument comes down to how Zverev performs at the Slams. And that's where he still has to prove himself.
Zverev is the most consistent and powerful 'Next-gen' player on hard courts, and because of his swift movement and huge serve, he is also likely to be very competitive on grass courts and clay. He has proved his potential and ability by beating great players in Masters 1000 events, collecting 3 titles already at such a young age.
But he has never performed up to his seeding and potential in Grand Slams. While he made some advancement in 2018 by winning a number of close battles, he still hasn't reached a Major semifinal yet.
Zverev's greatest assets are his stability, consistency and power. But those things can also hold him back, as he can be a little predictable and unsurprising with his game. Players can get into a nice routine against him, especially if he isn’t winning a lot of quick and easy points with his big first serve.
Players can also tire him out easily over the course of a five-set match .He lost 6–0 in the 5th to Hyeon Chung at Australian Open 2018, and 6–0 in the 5th to Ernests Gulbis at Wimbledon 2018. He was leading 2 sets to 1 in both these matches and had multiple break point opportunities to close them out, but failed to do so - and eventually succumbed to fatigue.
Here's a more detailed look at his performance in each of the Slams:
Grass: Though Zverev has made it to two finals at Halle, he doesn't yet have a consistently authoritative first-strike game to be successful in all the seven rounds of a quick-court Slam. His best performance at Wimbledon is the 4th round.
If Zverev is to win at Wimbledon, he needs to develop an aggressive all-court game that can last an entire fortnight.
Hard courts: Zverev has never been past the fourth round at the Australian Open and third round at the US Open, but I feel this is the surface where he can be a nemesis to all his opponents. Hard courts suit his style of play, and he has proved that by winning the ATP Finals and the Masters 1000 event in Montreal.
That said, the competition on this surface is perhaps greater than anywhere else. Dominic Thiem made it to the US Open quarterfinal last year, where he lost to Nadal 7-6 in the fifth. It was an edge-of the seat thriller which lasted over 4 hours and 43 minutes.
In addition, there are many other future stars coming up such as Stefanos Tsitsipas, Frances Tiafoe and Alex De Minaur; even after the greatest hardcourt players of this generation - Federer and Djokovic - retire, the field is still going to be very challenging and competitive.
Clay: Dominic Thiem looks like he's the heir to the clay throne, having made the French Open final last year and being the only one to have defeated Nadal in 2017 and 2018 on clay. Thiem dismantled an injured Zverev in the quarterfinals last year at Roland Garros, proving that he is ahead of the German in the claycourt sweepstakes right now.
It looks like Zverev will have to wait to taste success on the red dirt, provided Nadal's supremacy comes to an end sooner than later.
What does the future hold for Zverev?
Zverev is currently ranked #3 in the world and is only 21 years of age. Even if he can't break the current dominance of the 'Big Three', I see him becoming #1 in the world eventually.
But for that he will have to start showing improvements in his Slam record very soon, and learn to adapt to the unique challenges of best-of-five matches. How well he does those things in 2019, could play a big role in determining how many Majors he goes on to win by the end of his career.