Djokovic’s demolition act of Zverev proves the old order still prevails
Alexander Zverev had a tour-high 49 match wins going into the Shanghai Masters Semi Final, and considering he has played only one ATP 250 level tournament, a majority of his wins have come in ATP 500s, Masters 1000s and Grand Slams.
He had looked extremely solid, winning his matches rather easily despite starting the tournament a bit under the weather. He had a terrific first half of the year and though he seemed to have hit a bit of a dip in form in the last few months, he seemed to be back at his best in this tournament. His win over Kyle Edmund, the British number one, was almost flawless.
Furthermore, in the only previous encounter with his semi-final opponent, Novak Djokovic, on the clay court of Rome last year, he had defeated the Serbian in two sets. There was every reason for the young German to be confident of his chances against the veteran.
On paper, it seemed to be a more or less evenly matched encounter, with two players having similar styles, especially two-handed backhands that are best in the business. Fans were looking forward to a competitive encounter of high quality. It promised to be a mouth-watering clash.
But then the actual match happened. And it turned out to be a no-contest. A demolition act by the Serbian that left Zverev feeling like an impersonator, a shadow of the player he actually is. So, what exactly happened?
A 6-2, 6-1 scoreline is an accurate description of how the match actually played out. Zverev who had been so solid so far in the tournament was tentative and nervous. The winners were non-existent and feet were not moving beyond a point.
On the other side of the court, Novak was playing at a very high level – a level that kept him at the top of the game for much of the period between 2011 and 2016. Such a performance is not a one-off.
There have been many such occasions in the careers of not just Djokovic, but the big three including Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, where they raise their game to a level where the non-big three players, with the exceptions of Andy Murray and Stan Wawrinka at times, simply get overawed. They seemed to be defeated even before they set foot on the court.
There may be a lot of analysis of the reasons explaining the one-sided nature of this match. Whether Zverev was not fully fit or was having a bad day, is irrelevant. What this match again underlines is that the era of the Big Three continues. Despite all the hype of exciting new talent emerging, the fact is the old order in tennis is very much intact and the new order has a lot of catching up to do.