Zverev hoping long road leads to turnaround

  • David Cox

There are few top 10 players who tune up for a Grand Slam with a series of seven-hour training blocks. But then Alex Zverev’s predicament has been highly unusual for a player many would have expected to be among the contenders at Melbourne Park this year.

The German, still only 22 years old, has yet to advance beyond the quarterfinal stage at a major, and after suffering a well-publicised case of serving yips at the ATP Cup – losing to Alex De Minaur, Stefanos Tsitsipas and Denis Shapovalov all in straight sets – it was time for desperate measures.

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“I have been practicing five to six hours, seven hours sometimes a day, which nobody really does a week before a Grand Slam,” Zverev revealed in a press conference on Friday.

“I need to get my tennis back, because how I was playing at the ATP Cup was just not good enough to do well in a Grand Slam. I know that, my team knows that. All I’ve been thinking about is basically how to practice, how to prepare myself. There’s nothing else really that matters right now.”

Zverev says his heavy training load has helped his AO preparation

The world No.7’s struggles on serve saw him subject to widespread mockery in the opening week of the season, with Belinda Bencic cheekily suggesting he should donate to the charity bushfire appeal for each double fault he serves during the Australian swing.

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However, Zverev is bullish that his game will now finally start to click when he kicks off his campaign next week against Italy’s Marco Cecchinato.

“I’ll probably have more confidence than at the ATP Cup, that’s for sure,” he said. 

“Look, I know I’m probably not the favourite to win this title. Other players are playing better than me, so this is also a process, but I’m happy just knowing that I can go out there and feel comfortable.”

“Normally what happens with me is that the further I go in the tournament, the better I start playing and I’m hoping this will be the case. We’ll see how it goes.”

‘I need to get my tennis back, because how I was playing at the ATP Cup was just not good enough to do well in a Grand Slam’
Alex Zverev

Zverev also declared that Nick Kyrgios is not consistent enough to challenge for the title this year, although he believes AO2020 could be a tournament where many of the tour’s new rising stars could usurp the established order of Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer.

“I think there’s a lot of young guys that are right now, no offence, just better than him,” Zverev said of Kyrgios. 

“I think Tsitsipas is better than him, just simply because he’s more consistent over five sets. To beat the best, you have to play at your best for a longer period of time. But I think a lot of young guys have a chance this year, maybe more than the last few years, so it’s going to be interesting to see if there will be some upsets.”

MORE: Men’s draw: Djokovic, Federer in same half

One older player who will try to halt the momentum of Zverev and the rest of the younger brigade is world No.9 Roberto Bautista Agut. The 31-year-old Spaniard enjoyed a career-best year in 2019, reaching the Wimbledon semifinals and Australian Open quarterfinals while cracking the top 10 for the first time.

Despite suffering the tragedy of losing his father during the Davis Cup in November, Bautista Agut has continued where he left off at the start of 2020. He went unbeaten in the ATP Cup as Spain reached the final, beating Kyrgios in straight sets in the process.

Bautista Agut made the final eight in Melbourne for the first time last January

“It is good to play a lot of matches at beginning of the year,” he said on Friday. 

“I’ve already played six matches on the court, got some good rhythm on the court. I think managing the emotions is one of the big challenges on a tennis court in a tough situation, how to manage your mind. I try to focus on those things, and the work I’ve done with my psychologist has helped me a lot with that.”

Given the personal tragedy he has endured in the midst of his successes on court – Bautista Agut also lost his mother in May 2018 – AO2020 is likely to be an emotional occasion for the Spaniard. However, he said that playing tennis has been a way of helping him deal with their passing.

“For me and every player, parents make a lot of effort to try to get their kid to play tennis,” he said. 

“They work a lot, invest a lot of money and time, bringing us to practice and to tournaments. I have to keep living my life and doing what I like to do. They will continue to support me wherever they are and they will be proud of me.”