Tennis: Expectations piling up on Zverev to become Alexander the Great

Alexander Zverev served notice of his talent by winning the ATP Finals, beating Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic along the way.
Alexander Zverev served notice of his talent by winning the ATP Finals, beating Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic along the way.PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON • Alexander Zverev is only 21, yet strangely it feels as though his ATP Finals triumph on Nov 18 was a long time coming.

There has been much hype surrounding the German, who has been known in tennis circles since he was a toddler.

The hype will understandably intensify now - in fact, it already has.

Novak Djokovic, a 14-time Grand Slam champion, believes Zverev could surpass his own achievements while Boris Becker has hailed him as "the next big thing" and Jez Green, his physical trainer, has warned that "he is only going to get stronger and faster".

Zverev had an immediate taste of things to come, in terms of growing expectations, during his press conference after beating Djokovic in the final in London.

When informed of the Serb's prediction, his reaction served as a warning that no one should get too carried away at this early stage.

"Oh Jesus," Zverev said. "Oh my God. I've won one (pointing towards the season-ending championship trophy). He has won five. Let's not go there for now. I hope I can do great. But just chill out a bit."

While it is ludicrously early to give an opinion on whether he can win upwards of 14 Majors, it will be a disappointment if, by the end of his career, he is not a winner of multiple Grand Slams.

NOT GETTING AHEAD OF MYSELF

Oh my God. I've won one (ATP Finals trophy). ( Djokovic) has won five. Let's not go there for now. I hope I can do great. But just chill out a bit.

ALEXANDER ZVEREV, 2018 ATP Finals champion, responds to world No. 1 Novak Djokovic's prediction that he could surpass the Serb's haul of 14 Grand Slam titles.

At 1.98m, he has the height required in a sport in which players are becoming increasingly taller.

He also has the weapons, most notably a serve that reached speeds of up to 230kmh during the Finals.

Zverev grew up in an environment in which he was destined to become a successful player. He travelled on the tennis circuit from an early age, accompanying Mischa, his older brother by 10 years, who went on to reach a career-high ranking of world No. 25.

And his love of hockey growing up also helped him to develop his movement for tennis.

"He moves low and wide, and with a high level of coordination, which is very unusual at this height," Green said. "Physically, he is a natural athlete with an old-school work ethic."

By the age of 18, Zverev's potential secured him one of the biggest clothing contracts for a teenager, when he switched from Nike to Adidas for an annual seven-figure sum.

 
 
 

The pressure from bumper deals such as this was perhaps a contributing factor in his Grand Slam struggles, with only one quarter-final run in 14 appearances at the Majors.

He also admitted this year to being hindered by the extra weight on his shoulders on the biggest stage.

But in years to come, consecutive victories against Roger Federer and Djokovic in the Finals could well be looked back upon as the turning point.

It may be less than six weeks away but Zverev will arrive at the Australian Open on Jan 14 with swagger and belief after ending the season on such a high.

"It was the big match which we were all waiting for from him," Becker told the BBC. "Yes, he has won three Masters 1000 titles before and has beaten Djokovic and Federer before.

"But to beat Novak and Roger back to back in one of the biggest tournaments... The world saw a new superstar in tennis arrive."

THE TIMES, LONDON

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 04, 2018, with the headline 'Expectations piling up on Zverev to become Alexander the Great'. Print Edition | Subscribe