That 2017 will be remembered as the year of Federer and Nadal’s stunning renaissance is not a surprise. But, 2017 may also go down as the year of the solidification of Thiem’s and Zverev’s status as the top tennis players of the next decade.
For now, the million dollar question remains: How can Thiem and Zverev take it to the next level?
2017 has been the best season of Thiem’s career; a career-high ranking of 5 and some stunning performances are a testament to his superb year.
For those who follow the Tour, Thiem’s talent on clay is unquestionable. With 2 consecutive French Open semifinals, victories over all four members of the Big 4, and a 22-5 record on the surface, he is currently the second best on clay.
What does Thiem need to do to reach the next level?
While Thiem’s clay court game is certainly stellar, his performances on other surfaces are far from impressive. A 26-20 record on non-clay surfaces (in 2017) is, simply put, too bad for a top 5 tennis player, and Thiem will have to seriously improve his performances on other surfaces to be considered a top-notch tennis player and to contend for the No 1 ranking.
Part of Thiem’s problem on other surfaces is his technique. While his expansive and elaborate groundstrokes help him generate tremendous power and depth on clay, they tend to get unreliable and rushed on faster surfaces, as he gets far lesser time to set up his shots.
These issues, however, could be rectifiable. Take Stan Wawrinka for example – a player known for similar elaborate groundstrokes has improved considerably on other surfaces. While he is still not great on grass (although he has reached 2 Wimbledon QF’s ), his performances on hard courts have improved to a large extent, with 2 grand slams won on hard courts.
Another aspect Thiem could improve on is scheduling. Playing 26 tournaments a year is just not feasible no matter how fit you are without compromising on performance.
Just like his fellow young star Thiem, 2017 has been Zverev’s best year. He has risen from no 24 to no ¾. Won 2 masters 1000 events, and won more than 50 matches this year. All this while he is 20 years old. To put this in perspective, he has matched the Big 4, even surpassed some, while they were the same age in terms of ranking and Masters wins. It goes without saying that Zverev has tremendous potential, as he has already achieved quite a bit without even reaching his physical prime.
What does Zverev need to do to take it to the next level?
Although Zverev has shown that he can play well on all surfaces in the best of 3 sets format (win-loss: 49-18), he has not been able to reproduce that form in the grand slams. (Win-loss: 6-4). So far in his career, he has only reached the 4th round only once in 11 attempts. Why is there such a huge disparity? It may have to do with his physique: his 198cm frame may struggle to keep up with the demands of his game. It could also be his forehand: While it is a solid shot, it is not quite as good as his backhand and can be broken down.
In my opinion, if Zverev is to improve at the Slam level, he will need to polish his forehand and make it a deadlier weapon. Also, as well as Zverev moves for his height, he is no Djokovic, Murray or Nadal (or for that matter even a Federer), and his movement can be exposed in a 5-set match filled with long rallies. Another aspect of Zverev’s play that is particularly frustrating is his lack of use of the serve and volley. With a serve like his, he could extract many free points on his service games, especially on faster courts. This would help him in two ways: firstly, he could finish service games faster, which would put more pressure on his opponents. Secondly, this would prevent him from playing long matches, something he will need more and more as he grows older.
While they still a long way from global domination, they are young and have the talent to get there one day.
Brace yourself for ‘Thierev’ or ‘Zverevciem’, (whichever sounds better) in the coming years.
- Ishaan Sati is from Pune, India. He plays tennis, follows the tour religiously, and has been watching videos on The Slice since March.