The Coming of Sascha Zverev
Arguably one of the most powerful – and talked about – players currently on the ATP Tour, Sascha Zverev is no longer considered a budding tennis star, unlike his peers Hyeon Chung, Denis Shapavalov, Stefanos Tsisipas, et al. His recent run at the French Open, which included 3 successive 5-set victories from a 2-sets-to-1 deficit, showed the 21-year-old’s grit.
From being called a youngster with an exceptional backhand in 2015 to a complete player and a potential great by the end of 2017 – a year which saw him beat a couple of legends in successive Masters 1000 finals – Zverev still keeps frustrating fans and pundits alike. It has become a habit for the German to be complacent against lower-ranked and young opponents. More often than not, his opponent jumps to a formidable early lead before he is forced to mount a comeback. With tougher or more experienced adversaries, he often goes toe-to-toe irrespective of the outcome of the match. This particular approach mostly works in his favour in best-of-3 set matches, but did not get him past quarters at Roland Garros. The fatigued Sascha showed no fight against Dominic Theim and proceeded to lose in straight sets.
A slice first serve which often clocks 220 kmph and powerful groundstrokes off either wing were almost enough to sink Nadal's ship in the finals of Italian Open'18. Despite a rain delay that eventually shifted momentum, Sascha proved that he will be a serious contender at Roland Garros.
Sascha may not be a naturally blessed athlete like a Federer or a Nadal, but he still manages to cover the court smoothly in spite of his 6’6” frame. His slim physique further assists his movement.
Recording a 13-match win streak over two weeks on clay - including scalps like Cilic, Goffin, Edmund, Theim, Shapavalov and Isner - clearly showcases his innate physical endurance which made him get up each morning effervescing energy, and ready to compete and win.
Completeness of Game
Experts often say that his game has hit the ceiling and that his scope for improvement is minimal. His game seemed to have already matured at a young age. Some refer to the monotony of the playing style, which makes him predictable, besides his lack of innovation in surprising opponents.
No.3, still Slam-less
Following Zverev's early exit from Australian Open'18, Federer remembered his own struggles early in his career. While he was winning ATP 500 and Masters 1000 crowns, he was not able to go beyond the quarterfinals in Grand Slams. Back then, a stream of Major champions like - Marat Safin, Lleyton Hewitt, Andy Roddick, Juan Carlos Ferrero, et al - peaked together and yet the Swiss made battles against his contemporaries seem "Federer versus the rest"
Today, Sascha has the opportunity to do something similar and dominate his peers – which include the immensely talented Kyrgios, Shapavalov, etc. The German stands alone considering his consistency over last 2 years. Not only has he fared better than his peers, Sascha has wins over every tennis great still playing the game except Nadal.
With the Big 4 approaching the end of their respective careers, and no one else from the 90s stepping up, it seems Zverev is running a race without opponents! A feud with former coach Fererro and a temporary loss of rhythm on his forehand aside, a mental block (of not performing at Grand Slams) should not ideally stop this young man. His performance in the season’s remaining Majors will pave the way for his future. To cement his position as indeed the ‘next big thing’, Sascha should ideally win a Slam later this year – perhaps defeating Federer/Nadal en route – else he could end up finding himself replaced by another youngster aspiring to become the next big thing. Well, some commentators will ensure just that!