Is “The Future” a choker?
It was a year shrouded in unpredictability, a year in which the rule books where lobbed out the window; 2017 had it all. Whatever you thought would happen, didn’t. Rafa and Roger were back on the podium, Djokovic and Murray were sidelined for the last half of the season with injuries and a new wave of feisty exuberant teenagers had decided enough was enough; it was their time to assert their authority and upset the established order.
The biggest new breed of star to explode onto the scene was the twenty-year-old, Alexander Zverev. By the end of the season, Zverev had reached a career high of No.3 in the world. He was the new kid on the block and everybody knew it.
The future arrived in 2017
His 2017 season was undeniably amazing, that it, outside of the Grand Slam tournaments. He beat Djokovic in the final of the Rome Masters, winning his first Masters 1000 title. A few months later he beat a resurgent Federer in the final of Montreal. He managed to bulldoze his way through both finals in straight sets. He won five of his six ATP titles in 2017; his game had reached the next level. The future had arrived.
Winning the big tournaments and taking out the top players in the world does, however, come with a heavy price tag: pressure.
Due to his successes, Zverev had to face an encyclopedia of new challenges. He was now expected to do well at every tournament he entered. This became very apparent at the end of last season when he decided to boycott the NextGen ATP Finals in exchange for the second biggest tournament on the tour, the World Tour Finals in London. He wanted to rub shoulders with the figureheads of the sport on one of the biggest stages in the world. This unfortunately backfired quite dramatically as he only managed to record a solo victory at the event over an out-of-form Marin Cilic. He was eventually dumped out of the tournament during the RR stage by Jack Sock. It was clearly visible that the stress and pressure had gotten to his head. The constant arm flailing and aggression towards his player’s box really didn’t help his crowd support. Had Zverev stuck to his original plan and remained loyal to the NextGen tournament, he likely would have walked away from the event a champion.
No longer a new-comer in 2018
Coming into the new season, ranked 4th in the world only behind Dimitrov, Federer, and Nadal, his ranking immediately became a burden as he now had to live up to the hype. Zverev started 2018 at the Hopman Cup, which is half exhibition event, half tournament. He made it to the final with teammate Angelique Kerber, but succumbed to Switzerland, losing to Federer and Bencic in the.
The Australian Open is the first major tournament of the year and one of the most prestigious in the sport. He was seeded fourth at a major for the first time in his career which led to a significant opportunity to make it deep in the draw. With Djokovic, Murray, Wawrinka, and Nadal still licking their wounds from the previous season, this could have been Zverev’s chance to pounce when no one was looking. But, no… he choked.
Grand Slam woes continue for Zverev
His past eleven Grand Slam main draw entries have resulted in no more than a fourth-round appearance; the Aus Open was no exception. He was taken to five sets in the third round by South Korea’s Quadzilla, Hyeng Chung. Chung is a forceful, explosive, powerhouse of defensive tennis with bulging quads the size of small asteroids. Zverev, when faced with the unknown challenge of Chung, met his demise and ultimately lost the fifth set 6-0. Zverev was down and very much out.
Wins against Top 10 players: 11
Wins against Top 5 players: 6
Wins against Top 50 players at a Grand Slam: 0
Impressive stat! #AusOpen
— Albi Barschel (@AlbiBarschel) January 20, 2018
Zverev is yet to break through the Grand Slam glass ceiling and up until this point, it’s been hard to work out why. As mentioned earlier, Zverev doesn’t handle pressure well; this is exactly what happened at the Australian Open. The occasion and majesty of a Grand Slam has evidently affected him.
Zverev has been branded, by many, as the successor to the Big Four’s behemoth empire. He’s supposed to be the next dominant force to engulf the top of men’s tennis. The world has seen a glimpse into life on the tour after Roger, Rafa, Andy and Novak eventually hang up their racquets. But until the light fades on the Big Four’s kingdom, winning a major in this era is an obscenely tough mountain to conquer. With the added pressure from the press and fans on social media, you’d need to develop elephant skin and astonishing mental stability to make it past the world’s best to win a Major. Zverev is still very young, though, so these traits will take time to mature.
It is only a matter of time
Zverev has an extensive library of shots and a potential world number 1 level of talent. He’s proven that he can beat the greatest and most talented players on tour. He’s proven he has the talent it takes to potentially win multiple majors. He just needs to get his head in the game, ignore the media and focus on his goals. The continuous Grand Slam chokes will eventually be a thing of the past and once Zverev has a stranglehold of his temperament; he will be close to unstoppable.
The only thing stopping him from being the best of the best is himself; it’s all mental. At the age of 20, he has his entire career ahead of him.
So, Zverev fans can relax.
Federer didn’t win his first major until he was 22 and just last week won his twentieth Grand Slam and sixth Australian Open at the ripe old age of 36. Zverev could have another sixteen years left on tour if he adopts the Federer essence.
Zverev is the future: the future has arrived, the future is now and the future is very bright.
- Calvin Hill is a contributor for The Slice from Edinburgh, Scotland. Follow him @calv_hill.