Who is Alexander Zverev?

Alexander Zverev’s great form in 2016 saw him break into the ATP Tour rankings top 20 (he finished the season ranked 24th), win his first title at the ATP 250 St Petersburg Open and brought him to the attention of tennis fans worldwide. The Tennis Review asks who is Alexander Zverev and gives you the lowdown on a #NextGen player making his mark in the pro ranks in 2016.

Zverev was thrown into the limelight at the start of 2016 when he was drawn against second seeded Andy Murray in the first round of the Australian Open. Not only was Zverev thrown into the limelight- he was also thrown to the lions, facing a multiple slam champ who had contested four finals in Melbourne. Perhaps, and understandably so, overwhelmed by the occasion,  Zverev did not perform to his best abilities and won just six games.

Playing Murray, who has all the tools to exploit your inexperience and weaknesses, was a tall order for the 198 cm Zverev, and though the experience must have been a little painful, the teen seemed to learn from it. In his next event, at the ATP 250 Montpellier Open, Zverev beat Marin Cilic, one of the tour’s few active slam champs, 7-6, 7-6 in what he said was his best ever performance. The German served big and was aggressive on his ground-strokes and return, an approach that he knew was necessary if he wanted to avoid another tough loss like the one he suffered in Melbourne.

Zverev exited the tournament in the next round to the experienced Paul-Henri Mathieu in a tight match, and would carry over his great form into the ATP 500 Rotterdam tournament where he beat the veteran Gilles Simon in a match that went all the way to a third set tiebreaker. Zverev fought off cramps and falling behind a break in the third to grab what might not have been his biggest win prestige wise, but was certainly a huge one when it came to character. The German went down in the quarters to Monfils, but went up in the estimation of tennis fans worldwide.

His 2016 has gone from strength to strength since then- Zverev made the Nice Open final, the Roland Garros third round, and before a home crowd in Halle, Zverev beat Roger Federer on his way to his first ATP 500 final. He then reached the Wimbledon third round, and the semis of the Citi Open.

Zverev defeats Federer

Photo courtesy of www.kridangan.com

Zverev finished the year winning the St Petersburg title, his first trophy, beating the recently crowned US Open champion Stan Wawrinka in the final.

Zverev’s fine form and ability to upset highly ranked players has been evident on the ATP for a while now. Last season, Zverev’s 2-6, 6-3, 6-4 upset of fifth seed Kevin Anderson at the ATP 500 Citi Open was another in a long line of impressive achievements for the 19 year old then ranked 96 on the ATP tour.

Earlier in the 2015 season, Zverev reached another career milestone, this time at at the Miami Open where Zverev qualified for his first ATP 1000 event beating Thiemo de Bakker 6-7 (2), 6-3, 6-4. Zverev went on to defeat Australia’s 69th ranked Sam Groth in the his opening match before losing to Lukas Rosol in the next round.

That was the second time the youngster had qualified for an ATP main draw this year- his first was in Marseilles where he lost in the opening round to Gael Monfils.  He went 10-11 in ATP main draws in 2015 including an appearance in the Bastad Semi-finals, a second round finish at Wimbledon, and a visit to the last 16 of the Aegon Championships.

Alexander Zverev served up notice of his arrival among the senior ranks in July 2014 when he made a run to the last four of the Hamburg Open clay event. The 17 year old followed in the footsteps of fellow teen Nick Kyrgios in making a big entrance on the big stages of the Senior ranks, and is also now joined by Thanasi Kokkinakis and Borna Coric as teenagers doing well on the ATP Tour.

In Hamburg 2014, the 17 year old beat 51st ranked Robin Hasse in the first round for the loss of two games. He followed that up with a 7-5, 7-5 win over defending champion and world No.19 Mikhail Youzhny. That win was the first one for a 17 year old over a top twenty player at an ATP 500 event since 2004 . In the last sixteen the Hamburg born teen  beat 32nd ranked Santiago Giraldo 6-4, 7-6 and then scored a 0-6, 7-5, 6-3 victory over 83rd ranked countryman Tobias Kamke.

That achievement made him the first 17 year old in an ATP semi-final since Marin Cilic in 2006. And as if he were not making enough records, he became the youngest ever player to make the last four on the tour, beating Rafael Nadal at the 2005 Barcelona Open.

Zverev US Open

Photo courtesy of Steven Pisano at flickr.com

That famous Hamburg run did not go any further however as Zverev’s inexperience got the better of him. In the last four, he came up against David Ferrer, the 2013 French Open finalist and world No.7 and was beaten soundly 0 and 1.

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So, who is Alexandr Zverev, the latest in a batch of teens making noise on an otherwise Veteran run ATP Tour?

Zverev, nicknamed Sasha, appears to be most at home on clay, winning a challenger event on the surface at the end of June 2014 in Braunshweig, Germany, beating veteran Paul-Henri Matthieu in the final.

The Russian born Zverev was also runner-up at the French Open Juniors 2013. Zverev, however, is no one surface pony- his game translates well to all surfaces- he was a former world No.1 in the junior rankings and this year won the boy’s singles title at the Australian Open, and won his first pro title on indoor hard.

Zverev’s rise up the rankings is no surprise- he has a strong tennis- loving team behind him. His father is a former pro and his mother is a tennis coach. His brother, Mischa, is also a professional player. Zverev trains at home in Hamburg and at Saddlebrook, Florida, the renowned tennis academy. Perhaps most importantly, he has one of the best fitness trainers around, Jez Green, who helped transform Andy Murray into one of the fittest players on the ATP.

Zverev is a basketball fan, and cites Lebron Jamesa as his favorite player. In tennis, though, his role model is none other than Roger Federer, but he has quite a different playing style more in keeping with the modern game. Zverev is an aggressive base-liner with a fierce backhand, a style that dominates on the homogenized surfaces of the modern game and has served him well in the juniors and appears to be working out for him in the seniors.

Making the kind of splash onto the tour previously seen from the likes of Nadal, Gasquet and Cilic, the future looks bright for the 19 year old. If he can keep his eye on the ball and go the way of those players, then expect to find out a lot more about him in the coming years.

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Commentary  by Christian Deverille

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