Road to Prague: Alexander Zverev
There was something distinctly Borg-ian about Alexander Zverev’s get-up at the US Open: the striped headband holding back a mop of surfer-blond hair, twinned with that trademark pinstripe polo.
Even those knee-high socks, left-field as they may seem in 2017, were a knowing nod to court couture of the Swede’s 70s-era contemporaries.
But for all those nods to the past, Sascha is, in the eyes of many, the sport’s future – a prodigious talent already displaying signs of the greatness expected of him.
“He’s a future Grand Slam champion and world No.1,” said Team Europe captain Bjorn Borg when announcing the addition of Zverev to his Roster.
“He’s beaten the game’s biggest stars to win big tournaments in 2017, and being on the same side as Roger, Rafa and other top players will bring out his best again.”
Endorsements don’t come much better – or weightier – than that. But of all the young stars bidding for a bona fide breakthrough at the top of the men’s game, the 20-year-old has delivered on his burgeoning potential more than most.
Over the past 12 months he has surged from 24th in the ATP rankings to No.4 on the back of five title wins in 2017, including a pair of victories that set him apart from the pack intent on unseating the Big Four at the top of the men’s game.
In Rome he became the youngest ATP Masters 1000 champion in a decade by beating Novak Djokovic, the last teenager to win one of the tour’s leading titles back in 2007. Then, as if to prove it was no fluke, he hoisted the Coupe Rogers in August with victory over Roger Federer, making him the only active player outside the Big Four to claim multiple ATP Masters 1000 titles, taking his US hard court record to 10-1 ahead of the year’s final major.
For all that, significant success over five sets continued to elude the 6’6” German. Losses to Rafael Nadal in the third round of the Australian Open and Milos Raonic in the last 16 at Wimbledon, both in five grueling sets, were as good as it got at this year’s majors.
He is yet to match elder brother Mischa’s career-best run to a Grand Slam quarterfinal, though such a breakthrough seems destined for the boy born in Hamburg to Russian parents – Alexander Zverev senior, his father, coach and a former Soviet Davis Cup player, and Irina, herself a tennis pro.
Development is inevitable, both in his game and his still-slight physique. A fine baseline technician with easy power behind his serve, Zverev’s body shape adds to his enigma – already he hits the ball as hard as any of the tour’s towering muscle men and moves with the speed of a scampering defender.
He insists that he has packed on an extra 20lbs of muscle thanks to the work done with Jez Green, the physical trainer credited with transforming Andy Murray from a lanky talent into one of the sport’s most formidable athletes.
Zverev was handed the final spot in Borg’s six-man team, putting him shoulder-to-shoulder with players he has quickly gone from watching and idolizing to facing and, in some cases, beating.
“I’m so excited and grateful for this opportunity,” he said. “My idol when I was growing up was Roger Federer, so to even compete against him was already extremely special. Now to be on a team with him is almost surreal.
Then on top of that you have Rafael Nadal and other big stars in the same team. It’s going to be an incredible time.”
ZVEREV’S ROAD TO PRAGUE
Australian Open (outdoor hard): Round of 32 lost to Rafael Nadal 4-6 6-3 6-7(5) 6-3 6-2
Open Sud de France, Montpellier (indoor hard): Final beat Richard Gasquet 7-6(4) 6-3
ABN Amro World Tennis Tournament (indoor hard): Round of 32 lost to Dominic Thiem 3-6 6-3 6-4
Open 13 Marseille (indoor hard): Round of 32 lost to Nicolas Mahut 7-6(5) 7-6(5)
BNP Paribas Open, Indian Wells (outdoor hard): Round of 32 lost to Nick Kyrgios 6-3 6-4
Miami Open (outdoor hard): Quarterfinal lost to Nick Kyrgios 6-4 6-7(9) 6-3
Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters (outdoor clay): Round of 16 lost to Rafael Nadal 6-1 6-1
Barcelona Open (outdoor clay): Round of 16 lost to Hyeon Chung 6-1 6-4
BMW Open, Munich (outdoor clay): Final beat Guido Pella 6-4 6-3
Mutua Madrid Open (outdoor clay): Quarterfinal lost to Pablo Cuevas 3-6 6-0 6-4
Internazionali BNL d’Italia (outdoor clay): Final beat Novak Djokovic 6-4 6-3
Roland Garros (outdoor clay): Round of 128 lost to Fernando Verdasco 6-4 3-6 6-4 6-2
Ricoh Open (outdoor grass): Semifinal lost to Gilles Muller 7-6(5) 6-2
Gerry Weber Open, Halle (outdoor grass): Final lost to Roger Federer 6-1 6-3
Wimbledon (outdoor grass): Round of 16 lost to Milos Raonic 4-6 7-5 4-6 7-5 6-1
Citi Open, Washington (outdoor hard): Final beat Kevin Anderson 6-4 6-4
Coupe Rogers, Montreal (outdoor hard): Final beat Roger Federer 6-3 6-4
Western & Southern Open, Cincinnati (outdoor hard): Round of 32 lost to Francis Tiafoe 4-6 6-3 6-4
US Open (outdoor hard): Round of 64 lost to Borna Coric 3-6 7-5 7-6(1) 7-6(4)