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Is Zverev ready to be the real deal at Roland Garros?
At match point in the recent Rome Masters final, many onlookers would have expected a defensive style of play by Alexander Zverev. However, just like he had done all match against the bewildered Novak Djokovic, an aggressive return led to yet another uncharacteristic error from the Serb. The youngest Masters champion since Novak himself at Toronto 10 years ago had been crowned. All the hype surrounding the supremely talented German finally had some substance with this title. All of his peers, such as Nick Kyrgios, have not achieved this magnitude of victory in their careers yet. This simply begs the question; can Zverev deliver on his Grand Slam potential and become the youngest winner of a major since Juan Martin Del Potro?
Many people will say that he will win, but not this year. Due to the change in the men’s game of players reaching their peak much later on in their careers, pundits and journalists are much more apprehensive of making a judgement so early on. Furthermore, with several players who promised so much but did not deliver on their potential has made it that much more difficult to make a concrete prediction. Tsonga, Gasquet, Monfils and Verdasco have all fallen victim of the pressure put on them. Yet, why does Zverev excite us like very few players have done before? Arguably the biggest strength in his game, the lack of fear when playing in front of huge crowds and legendary players is startling. Be it Roger Federer on his favourite surface or battling against Novak Djokovic after his best performance of the year, nothing seems to phase him. “Play the ball, rather than the man.” This was something Federer finally did after ten years against his great friend and rival Rafael Nadal this year, Zverev looks like he can do this for the whole of his career. There will come a time when the pressure will get the better of Zverev, no doubt. However, his attitude towards the game will give him the freedom to more often than not, play his best when it matters most.
Away from his game style, the burning desire to become better is evident. Even his choice of tournaments portrays that passion. After his comprehensive thrashing against the “King Of Clay” in Monte-Carlo, Zverev sought a wildcard at the Barcelona Open. Asked about his motivation to play the tournament, “there’s a certain Mr Rafa Nadal in my section, I want another shot at him.” Now, he didn’t reach the fourth round to set up a fourth meeting with Nadal because of an inspired performance by Hyeon Chung. However, that hunger to get things right against an opponent must not be underestimated. It may almost be nigh on obsessive from Zverev’s part. But, this is far better than an attitude of evading a challenge. Many players would have taken a break for a few weeks and tried to repair the scar tissue inflicted on them after such a heavy loss. This shows that Zverev has a different mindset to his contemporaries. While peaking for the biggest tournaments will be his biggest challenge, his burning passion to play the game he loves will take him very far in this sport. Regardless of his success over the next decade, Zverev will be the most exciting talent to watch for all tennis enthusiasts.
With all the success coming his way this year, all eyes will be on the new world number 10 to see how he handles the pressure. We have seen all to often that some success is achieved, then the player goes into a phase where the struggle to achieve the heights again and more importantly, improve even more and get the ultimate goal, a Grand Slam title. In his post match interview at the final in Rome, it was clear that Zverev was going to savour this victory. But, his focus was also clear that this victory was not enough in his career. There are bigger things to achieve in his career, not least a major championship. That focus and drive is so important and is so evident in some of the greatest champions tennis has seen. The three all time greats currently playing can certainly vouch for that and it looks like Zverev will join them sooner rather than later.
As all eyes at Roland Garros will be on Nadal’s attempt for “La Decima” and Djokovic’s intriguing partnership with Andre Agassi, watch out for Zverev. He will be ready to possibly shake the tennis world and redefine the possibilities for a tennis player.