Bencic and Zverev enjoy Olympic breakthroughs

  • Matt Trollope

Belinda Bencic and Alexander Zverev have for years been predicted to scale the highest heights in the sport.

And the 24-year-olds took another significant step in their tennis journeys when they captured singles gold medals at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. 

Bencic earned hers on Saturday night with a compelling three-set win over Marketa Vondrousova, before Zverev thumped Karen Khachanov for the loss of just four games on Sunday – backing up his extraordinary semifinal upset of red-hot gold medal favourite Novak Djokovic.

READ MORE: Zverev powers past Khachanov to win Olympic singles gold

Both Bencic and Zverev have won titles at ATP/WTA 1000 level, with Zverev also capturing the ATP Finals title in 2018.

But the Swiss and the German both declared their golden triumphs in Tokyo unparalleled. 

“For me, this is the biggest thing ever for an athlete, so I cannot believe I have two medals and one of them is gold,” said Bencic, who also partnered fellow Swiss Viktorija Golubic to win silver in the women’s doubles.

“I mean, it’s amazing. I cannot really believe it right now. I just don’t get it yet. I don’t know whether to laugh or to cry. I didn’t think it would be possible. I was fighting for my life, and it worked out.”

Zverev’s disbelief was similar. 

“There are only few people in this world who are happier than me at the moment,” he said.

Alexander Zverev beat Karen Khachanov for Olympics singles gold at Tokyo 2020
Alexander Zverev celebrates the moment he secured the Olympic singles gold medal in Tokyo 2020, thanks to a 6-3 6-1 win over Karen Khachanov in the final. (Getty Images)

“I’ve won the World Tour Finals but a gold medal at the Olympics, the value is incredible because you’re not only playing for yourself, you’re playing for your country.

“This is so much bigger than anything else in sports. It’s an incredible feeling. There is nothing better than this.”

With their Olympic success, Bencic and Zverev have continued their remarkably similar career trajectories.

Both were world No.1 juniors who quickly transitioned their prodigious talents to the pro circuit by winning 1000-level titles as youngsters – Bencic as a teenager at Toronto in 2015, Zverev one month after turning 20 at the Rome Masters in 2017.

Both have added more 1000-level titles to their CVs since then – Bencic won in Dubai 2019, while Zverev has earned three more Masters titles – and have both attained peak rankings in the top four.

They have also both notched a similar number of impressive wins over top-five opponents; Bencic owns 13, Zverev 16.

Both have family ties to other nations – Bencic’s parents are Slovakian, and Zverev has Russian parents – while winning their representative nations’ second singles gold medals. 

Bencic is the first Swiss singles gold medallist since Marc Rosset in 1992, while Zverev emulated Steff Graf as a German singles gold medallist 33 years after Graf’s win in Seoul.

"This is the biggest thing ever for an athlete, so I cannot believe I have two medals and one of them is gold."
Belinda Bencic

One significant difference between the pair is the fact Bencic’s career was derailed by serious injury.

The former world No.4 required surgery in 2017 and missed half of that season, with her ranking dropping outside the top 300. 

More than three years passed between Bencic exiting the top 10 (June 2016) and returning to it (September 2019); her arduous journey back to the WTA’s upper tier has helped her accept that success and contentment can be found in her efforts, rather than her results.

“Every career has its own story but the most important is to be happy with yourself,” she said.

“I think maybe the success I had very early made people think now it has to go very easy. (But) everyone has their own time. Some people do it earlier, some people later, some people never, some people always. 

“You always have to overcome difficulties. I don’t know any athlete who has only ups and no downs.

“I always did my best, I always worked hard and in the end, that was what I could rely on. I knew that I always gave my best and that was enough for me.”

Belinda Bencic celebrates her victory in the gold medal match of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics over Marketa Vondrousova
Belinda Bencic celebrates the moment she secured the Olympic singles gold medal in Tokyo 2020 following her 7-5 2-6 6-3 win over Marketa Vondrousova in the final. (Getty Images)

Will Bencic and Zverev’s singles gold medals at Tokyo 2020 represent a career high-water mark? Or could it instead be a stepping stone to Grand Slam success?

We might know as soon as the US Open – a tournament at which both Zverev and Bencic have achieved their best results at a major – which begins in less than a month’s time

But for now, the main goal for both is to fully appreciate and soak in the feelings that accompany an incredible career milestone. 

“I don’t want to talk about the next Grand Slam right now because I just won the Olympic Games,” said Zverev, a finalist at Flushing Meadows in 2020.

“I want to enjoy this one for two minutes.”