Tennis: Major force or another young pretender? Alexander Zverev sets sight on Big Four

Alexander Zverev won the biggest crown of his career when he overpowered Novak Djokovic at the ATP Finals last year.
Alexander Zverev won the biggest crown of his career when he overpowered Novak Djokovic at the ATP Finals last year.PHOTO: AFP

MELBOURNE (AFP) - Alexander Zverev is looking for a maiden Grand Slam title in 2019 to cement his place as leader of a pack of hungry young players ready to end the old guard's monopoly in majors.

Zverev won the biggest crown of his career when he overpowered Novak Djokovic at the ATP Finals last year, but questions remain over whether this new kid on the block can dismantle the dominance of the big four - Djokovic, Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray.

To do that he must end his abject record in Grand Slams, with the first chance for the 21-year-old world No. 4 coming when the Australian Open begins in Melbourne on Monday.

For a player who has never been ranked outside the world's top five since breaking into that elite company in September 2017, Zverev's Grand Slam record makes painful reading.

A lone quarter-final, losing to Dominic Thiem at the 2018 French Open, is all he has to show from his 14 major appearances, despite having won three Masters titles among his 10 ATP titles.

He has never got beyond the third round in Melbourne. Last year, seeded fourth, he continued his sorry Slam run, crashing out in the last 32 to South Korea's Chung Hyeon.

But it was the manner of his win in London two months ago - dismissing Djokovic 6-4, 6-3 a day after a 7-5, 7-6 triumph over Federer - that had people believing the German had turned the corner and would be a major force in 2019.

"Us young guys, we're coming," warned Zverev after beating Djokovic. "You have to beat someone like Novak because he's not going to give you the match." Djokovic noted that Zverev's win could have deeper significance.

"There's a lot of similarities in terms of trajectory of professional tennis, in our careers," said the world number one. "Hopefully he can surpass me. I mean, I sincerely wish him that." Zverev is coached by the eight-time Grand Slam winning great Ivan Lendl.

He says he is still learning from standard bearers such as Federer, who will be gunning for a third-consecutive Melbourne crown at the age of 37, Djokovic, Nadal and Murray, who is on the comeback trail after hip surgery a year ago.

"They're still going to be the guys to beat at the big tournaments," Zverev said.

"I will do everything I can to get better, to compete with them always. I feel like I'm doing that. But still I have a lot of things to improve. I'm still very young."

Zverev began his year where he left off in London by showing good form at the Hopman Cup in Perth, including a battling victory against gritty veteran Spaniard David Ferrer, suggesting the young pretender may have what it takes to mature into a major force in 2019.