Rivalries Of 2017: Kyrgios Vs. Zverev
ATP World Tour Season In Review: Best Rivalries
One of the great rivalries in ATP World Tour history was thrust into the spotlight once again in 2017, with Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal sweeping the Grand Slams and returning to the Top 2 in the Emirates ATP Rankings. But that wasn't the only matchup that attracted attention. The curtains opened in what might be one of the next great FedEx ATP Head2Head rivalries.
Alexander Zverev and Nick Kyrgios, 20 and 22 years old, respectively, are the two youngest players near the top of the Emirates ATP Rankings. They each were at one point the top-ranked junior in the world, and have been widely considered two of the best young talents on the ATP World Tour.
It was only a matter of time before Zverev, armed with his all-around powerful game, met the enigmatic shotmaker, Kyrgios. And the tennis world got its first look at the matchup this year.
Kyrgios, the No. 15 seed, and Zverev, the No. 18 seed, each defeated Argentines in the second round of the BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells to set up the first of what was expected to be many meetings between the friends. But it wasn't close, with the Australian cruising 6-3, 6-4 in a 73-minute third-round match without facing a break point. He played aggressively, but under control to dismiss the German.
“He's young and will have a great career,” Kyrgios said after the victory. “We will play each other many more times.”
Kyrgios would then go on to defeat second-seeded Novak Djokovic for the second time in 2017 before withdrawing from a quarter-final against Federer due to illness.
It was clear from Zverev's comments after the match that he was highly disappointed with his performance, calling it the “worst match I played all year”. But in the very next tournament, another ATP World Tour Masters 1000 event, he’d get another crack at his fellow rising star.
But again, at the Miami Open presented by Itau, it was Kyrgios who got the better of Zverev 6-4, 6-7(9), 6-3 in the quarter-finals without facing a break point. This match, however, was far more intense. Emotions ran high under the lights in a high-quality affair, but Kyrgios seized his sixth match point to claim the victory.
“I respect his game. He's beaten some of the best players in the world,” Kyrgios said. “We're going to play a lot more times. And he's only going to get better. He's 19 years old… He's going to continually make me better.”
At the moment, it seemed like Kyrgios was not only ahead in the rivalry, but that he was playing his way to the top of the game. After beating Zverev, the Australian competed in just his second ATP World Tour Masters 1000 semi-final, and pushed Roger Federer — who would win the tournament — to the brink, holding the match on his racquet serving up 5/4 in a final-set tie-break. It was arguably the most impressive performance of his career given the circumstances.
Yet it was the German who was making a charge into the upper echelon of the ATP World Tour by the time they next met. In fact, Zverev soared up the rankings from 24th at the end of 2016 to as high as No. 3 this year, earning his first ATP World Tour Masters 1000 trophy in Rome.
So when the duo was set to face off in the Round of 16 at the Coupe Rogers in Montreal, there was even more hype than before. Zverev had just earned his fourth title of the season at the Citi Open and broke into the Top 10 of the Emirates ATP Rankings. Just days after saving three match points against Richard Gasquet — including one with a 49-shot rally — everything seemed to be going his way.
And that did not change against Kyrgios, with Zverev cruising 6-4, 6-3 in 73 minutes.
“Against him, it's not easy because he's one of the biggest servers that we have,” said Zverev, who would go on to claim his second ATP World Tour Masters 1000 title in Montreal. “He plays with not a lot of rhythm.”
But Zverev found his rhythm in the match and the tournament, becoming the first player outside of the ‘Big Four’ (Federer, Nadal, Djokovic, Murray) to win two Masters 1000 titles in a season since David Nalbandian in 2007, and only the second active player (Jo-Wilfried Tsonga) outside of the quartet to own two of the elite trophies.
While Kyrgios can take the racquet out of his opponents' hands, smacking forehand winners from anywhere on the court and serving his way out of trouble on both first and second serves, Zverev brings more of a consistency and will be in virtually every match with his steadier aggression from the baseline, which is especially potent on his two-handed backhand wing. It is an unpredictable matchup in which either player can win on any surface on any day.
That is why it wasn’t entirely surprising to see Kyrgios blast through Zverev in the semi-finals of the China Open, winning the last of the pair’s meetings this year, 6-3, 7-5.
While Zverev and Kyrgios are still working to reach their potential, they are inching ever closer to the very best in the sport. Zverev proved it this year by finishing fourth in the Emirates ATP Rankings and earning a berth at his first season finale. Kyrgios on the other hand did not win a title this season, but triumphed in four of six matches against the Top 5, including two wins against Novak Djokovic.
Both players have the talent to continue improving and if they do so, they will challenge each other in the process.
“He's going to beat me plenty of times in his career,” said Kyrgios at Indian Wells. “I'm going to beat him [too].”
View FedEx ATP Head2Head (Kyrgios leads 3-1)
Kyrgios vs. Zverev: 2017 Meetings
|BNP Paribas Open||Hard||R32||Kyrgios|| 6-3, 6-4
|Miami Open presented by Itaú||Hard||QF||Kyrgios||6-4, 6-7(9), 6-3|
|Coupe Rogers||Hard||R16||Zverev||6-4, 6-3
|China Open||Hard||SF||Kyrgios|| 6-3, 7-5