Alexander Zverev came of age this year as he claimed Top 10 scalps in some of the biggest matches of the year. Wins against Djokovic in the Rome Masters final and against Federer in the Montreal Masters were milestones in the young star’s career. To defeat two such legendary players in the finals of some of the sport’s biggest tournaments is a hugely impressive achievement for Zverev. It certainly heralds a bright future for the German. But with players of this potential, there is understandably a tendency to compare them to past and current champions. And success in the most important tournaments of the year was, for the most part, largely out of his grasp.
Compared with the legends?
At the age of 20 Zverev is on track to become one of the giants of the game and his breakthrough season came at just the right time it would seem. Federer was 21, Djokovic 20 and Nadal 19 when they broke through. But one thing has yet to be seen from Zverev and that is success on the biggest stage. Nadal claimed four Masters series events and a Grand Slam in his breakthrough and Federer a Grand Slam and the Masters Cup (now the World Tour Finals). Djokovic took two Masters events just as did Zverev this year. But unlike the German the Serbian’s Grand Slam results were very impressive even if a title at the level eluded him. After losing the fourth round in Australia, Djokovic made the last four at the French Open and Wimbledon and the final in Flushing Meadows.
History tells us that, at the very least, one Grand Slam would follow the very next year for these players. In 2004 Federer was dominant, winning in Australia, Wimbledon and New York. Nadal added another French Open to his trophy cabinet in 2006 as well as making the final at Wimbledon. Djokovic defeated Federer en route to his first Slam title at the Australian Open and finished the year with a win at the Masters Cup. If Zverev could achieve a similar level of success as any of the three next year it would be an astonishing achievement for the German. But he does not seem to have built up the same level of experience at Grand Slam level which could potentially cost him.
How bad was 2017?
Perhaps the worrying thing about Zverev’s losses in the Slams against Nadal, Verdasco, Raonic and Coric was the manner of his defeat rather than the losses themselves. He lost control of the match against Raonic despite having been ahead throughout. His fifth set collapse, where he managed just one game, was not pleasant to watch. Losing against an in-form Nadal carries no shame, but at crucial stages in the match Zverev lost concentration and his fitness failed him late on.
Two close four setters in New York and Paris against strong opposition that Zverev would expect to beat won’t have helped. The loss against Coric was particularly concerning. After wins in Washington and Montreal Zverev came into the US Open a favourite, and at his highest ever seeding of fourth. In a weak draw he had a great chance of a deep run, and there are some who are accusing the German of choking.
But panicking about the psychological damage these losses inflicted may be premature. Sascha Zverev’s breakout year is almost in line with past great’s of the modern game. If history has shown us anything, his maiden Grand Slam may well be just around the corner. And history has rarely had to account for players like Nadal and Federer looking to make more history in tennis’ Golden Era. And with Djokovic, Murray and Wawrinka to return, the rise of the Next Gen stars like Zverev may be delayed a little more. But 2017 should be seen as a platform for him to achieve more and not a mark of his limits. Don’t bet against his rise continuing next year with one of the game’s biggest titles.
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