Zverev’s Tough End To Remarkable Season
Expectations have long followed Alexander Zverev, with few people doubting that he is destined for stardom on the ATP World Tour. So it wasn’t a complete shock that the 20-year-old German soared up the Emirates ATP Rankings from No. 24 at the end of last year to third in the world now. His five titles and two ATP World Tour Masters 1000 trophies (Rome, Montreal) this season cemented his status as one of the sport’s best.
But Zverev did not finish his 2017 on a high note. He advanced to just one semi-final in his final seven tournaments of the year. And when playing Jack Sock on Thursday evening for a spot in the final four of the Nitto ATP Finals, Zverev let slip a break in the third set, failling to the American. Zverev was brutally honest about the loss.
“I choked,” Zverev said. “Won the second set 6-1. I was 1-0 [in the third set] with a break. He got a point penalty. I was down 1-4 within 10 minutes where I didn't put many balls in the court. When I got back at 4-5, that's one of the worst games I think I played all year. So, yeah, I just choked.”
Early in the third set, it seemed that Sock was unraveling, not Zverev. The eighth seed launched his second ball of the night into the stands after getting broken to begin the set, earning himself a point penalty. On the other side of the court, Zverev was emoting positively and seemingly in a rhythm from the baseline.
And then he wasn’t. One lapse of concentration was all it took, as he handed the break back to Sock. And while the third seed managed to get back on serve later in the set, an ugly double fault, which Zverev described as “about a 19 mile-an-hour serve that I hit in the bottom of the net” gave the 25-year-old across from him match point, which Sock would not waste.
“I found my rhythm again in the middle of the third set. I got the break back. I started to play I feel like better until the game of 4-5,” Zverev said. “That was one of the worst games I think I played [this year], not only in this match.”
But nevertheless, the stinging defeat does not take away from the tall right-hander’s success this season. He became the youngest in the Top 3 of the rankings since Novak Djokovic (20) in 2007 and also the youngest player to win five or more titles in a single year since Djokovic, also in 2007. The last German to accomplish those feats was Boris Becker. Djokovic has won 12 Grand Slam titles, and Becker six.
So sure, Zverev is happy with the progress he has made. But he is not happy with his close to the season.
“It's been an awesome year,” Zverev said. “Still, the end of the year was absolute crap for me. If I would have played the whole year like I did, by the end of the year I don't think I would have finished Top 50.”
It is said that many people are their own toughest critics. Sock had nothing but positive things to say about Zverev’s performance this year.
“The guy is 20 years old. He's played some absolutely outstanding tennis in his career. I mean, can't even legally drink a beer in the U.S. and he's three in the world, playing like he is,” Sock said. “ It could be the expectations for him, as well. Obviously with the tennis he's played, not only this year, but the start of his career, he could go out there and expect himself to play a certain way.”
Now, Zverev will have an opportunity to work on his game so that next year, he will not only be able to raise his level, but maintain it consistently. He will be going to the Maldives for his brother Mischa’s wedding, and then getting right back to work.
“I'm going to do three weeks of physical [training] again, then start tennis, just do all the basic stuff again,” Zverev said. “[I want to] try to get back to where I was [at the] beginning of the year, try to maybe improve even more.”
As for his sour final match to close what was an extremely impressive 2017, Zverev had no excuses.
“It was just nerves, nerves getting in the way,” Zverev said. “They got the better of me.”