Minor on course to make Major breakthrough

Alexander Zverev has defeated Roger Federer and received praise from Andy Murray and Rafael Nadal.
Alexander Zverev has defeated Roger Federer and received praise from Andy Murray and Rafael Nadal.

LONDON • No male teenager has won a Grand Slam title since Rafael Nadal lifted the French Open trophy 11 years ago. Andy Murray was the last player under 20 even to reach the world's top 10, and that was almost a decade ago.

Tennis has not been a young man's game of late, but Alexander Zverev may be about to change all of that. A teenager until next April, his potential has long caused a buzz in the game but a significant victory last week suggested he may be ready to stand among the big names.

The 19-year-old German, known on tour as "Sascha", produced the finest match of his life to beat Roger Federer 7-6 (7-4), 5-7, 6-3 on grass at Halle, a tournament that the Swiss legend, arguably the finest grass-court player ever, has won eight times.

Even Zverev admitted: "I just couldn't have imagined it."

Nor could his manager, Patricio Apey, who said: "Sascha is constantly outdoing and overachieving what I and people who know more about the technicalities of tennis are expecting of him.

"It's like working out a business plan and your company achieves it in a few weeks when you think it will take months."

The 1.98m Zverev will arrive at Wimbledon next week as the No. 24 seed, the first time he has been seeded at a Grand Slam event.

He will aim to show he has made rapid progress since the Australian Open, where he was thrashed by Murray 6-1, 6-2, 6-3 in the first round. Not that Murray was blind to Zverev's potential though.

"He's obviously very good and times the ball well," the Briton said.

"He's got a lot of potential, for sure, but he might take a little bit longer to develop into his body until he gets physically strong enough."

Before defeating Federer, Zverev had already this year seen off former US Open champion Marin Cilic, Davis Cup finalist David Goffin and his predecessor as the "next big thing", Grigor Dimitrov.

He also tested Nadal to the limit at Indian Wells, after which the Spaniard declared: "He's a clear future No. 1. He's an amazing player.

"He has all the shots with a very good physical performance. He's tall, has a good serve, first and second, plays great shots from the baseline, off the forehand and backhand. Frankly he has everything to become a big star."

THE TIMES, LONDON

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 25, 2016, with the headline 'Minor on course to make Major breakthrough'. Print Edition | Subscribe