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Zverev tipped to hit pinnacle of tennis

Alexander Zverev.
Alexander Zverev.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

LONDON • More than 10 years have passed since a couple of determined and highly talented teenagers named Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray began to make their mark in tennis.

Since then only two players younger than the Serb and the Scot, Juan Martin del Potro and Marin Cilic, have won Grand Slam titles, but neither has managed to maintain a consistent presence at the very top of the game.

To date no player born in the 1990s has either managed to get his hands on the most prized trophies in the game or break his way into the world's top five.

If Rafael Nadal is to be believed, 18-year-old Alexander Zverev is destined to do both and more.

The world No. 5 has never been one prone to exaggeration but after surviving a break point against the German youngster at the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells earlier this month, the illustrious Majorcan was fulsome in his praise.

HE'S GOT EVERYTHING

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.

RAFAEL NADAL, 14-time Grand Slam winner, on his pick of tennis' NextGen players, Alexander Zverev.

"He's a clear future No. 1," said Nadal. "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."

Alongside Zverev, there is a veritable gaggle of potential champions, among them Borna Coric of Croatia, South Korea's Chung Hyeon and Taylor Fritz of the United States, while Australian Nick Kyrgios, 20, certainly has star quality, if not the ability to behave in an exemplary manner.

The ATP World Tour executives are so excited they have based a new marketing campaign around the group entitled NextGen.

However, Zverev, whose Russian-born parents were both respected players and whose elder brother Mischa still competes on the World Tour, is the one causing the most anticipation after scoring notable victories this year against top-30 players Grigor Dimitrov and Gilles Simon.

"My family background is perfect for what I'm trying to do," said the player who won the Australian Open junior title little more than two years ago, six months after finishing runner-up in the boys' French Open.

More success followed. By winning the 2014 Sparkassen Open, he became one of the youngest players to ever win an ATP Challenger Tour title and within a couple of weeks he stepped up several levels to reach the semi-finals of the German Championships played in his home town, Hamburg. He entered the top 100 for the first time last May and currently stands 52nd.

Zverev is managed by Patricio Apey, who did the same job for Andy Murray at a similar age. Seeing the youngster as a rather gangly specimen, Apey decided it was time to add some muscle to his frame and enrolled Jez Green, the English fitness coach who turned Murray into the ironman he is today.

Standing at 1.98m with a brutally fierce serve that is pushing him high in the ace charts, Zverev is built for the modern game.

There is still a considerable amount of fine-tuning to be done before he is the finished article, as his defeat by the American Steve Johnson in the Miami Open late on Friday showed, but it took two tie-breaks before he lost 6-7, 6-7, and he fired 14 aces on the way.

When the French Open and Wimbledon come around this year, the German will be far more accustomed to the level of play required.

Compliments continue to come Zverev's way. Djokovic is another who sees great potential in him.

"When I was breaking through it was easier," said the world No 1. "Now it's a much more physical game. It takes more to start making progress up the top 100 so I applaud this young group and have respect for them getting to where they are as teenagers.

"Tennis needs new young talent out there, fighting with the best."

THE SUNDAY TIMES, LONDON

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 28, 2016, with the headline 'Zverev tipped to hit pinnacle of tennis'. Print Edition | Subscribe