Zverev still facing giant step between Masters 1000 and Grand Slam title

By Austin Reynolds. You can follow him on Twitter at @austinreyynolds.

Just 20 years old, young gun Alexander “Sascha” Zverev firmly established himself as a force to be reckoned with at the French Open when he won in Rome earlier this month. Zverev brought his full arsenal to the relatively slow-paced clay courts and swept aside some big-time players. His..for lack of a better word…“huge” backhand and serve gave him considerable confidence going into the final against Novak Djokovic, whom he upset 6-4, 6-3.

Zverev’s Rome triumph marked the first for a non-“Big 4” player at a Masters 1000 event since Marin Cilic in Cincinnati last summer. The German joins an elite group of players who have won a Masters 1000 title during the reign of the Big 4 (nine since 2009).

But despite taking down one of the greatest players of all time in a the final, Zverev enjoyed a path to the title match that was much friendlier than most tennis seemingly biased, #NextGen-loving commentators are willing to admit.

Zverev’s road to the Rome final 

Def. Kevin Anderson 6-4, 4-6, 6-4

Def. Viktor Troicki 6-3, 6-4

Def. Fabio Fognini 6-3, 6-3

Def. Milos Raonic 7-6 (7-4), 6-1

Def. John Isner 6-4, 7-6 (7-5), 6-1

Def. Novak Djokovic 6-4, 6-3

Beating two top 40 players, two former top 10 players, the current world No. 6, and upsetting the world No. 2 of a surface that is not quite ideally suited to his big-hitting baseline game is commendable. But the aforementioned list of results would be an especially impressive run at, say, a 500-point tournament. It would be similarly momentous had it come in 2015 or early 2016 when Djokovic was at the height of his powers. This, however, is 2017—a crazy year in which Fabio Fognini of all people has been the most consistent in the group of players Zverev defeated in Rome. The rest of Zverev’s victims have either been battling injury or—for a variety of reasons—have been shadows of their former selves.

Anderson, for example, has only seven wins this season compared to eight losses. Troicki is 14-12 (four first-round setbacks). Raonic stands at a solid but unspectacular 17-5 with injuries having hampered his already less than roadrunner-like movement on court. Isner is 12-9, with six loses to lower-ranked opponents. Finally, Djokovic’s struggles are well-documented: 20-6 record, no titles aside from one 250-pointer (Doha), and the complete rearrangement of his team (Marian Vajda and everyone else out; Andre Agassi in).

As well as Isner and Djokovic played in Rome relative to their prior 2017 results, Zverev coming out on top in those two matchups does not guarantee that he is mentally and physically ready to win more Masters 1000 events or even a major this fortnight at the French Open—or at Wimbledon or the U.S. Open this summer. Sascha simply had a solid week that we, as tennis fans, should be thrilled with—because it shows what we may have in store for the future. But it does not mean that he is a top contender for the trophy on the red clay of Roland Garros, as many “experts” are suggesting.

Amidst increased expectations and at a level that is not yet up to par with top three oddsmakers’ favorites Rafael Nadal, Djokovic, and Dominic Thiem, Zverev could be vulnerable early in this tournament. Fernando Verdasco and in round one and a potential showdown against clay-court guru Pablo Cuevas loom large. Just how large remains to be seen.

10 Comments on Zverev still facing giant step between Masters 1000 and Grand Slam title

  1. great post. fognini also tanked that match, his wife was going into labour. I think zverev will be number one in the next 24 months, but is not a serious contender at this years roland garros, and isn’t going to start winning the very big tournament back to back. I think he is likely to lose to the first decent clay courrter he plays, specifically , Pablo cuevas.

    • #1 in two years?? I do agree about the Cuevas match. I got Cuevas making the quarters here.

      • I don’t see two years as overly optimistic honestly. Federer is a part timer, Nadal is up and down depending on injuries, no idea what we will get from month to month with Murray and Djokovic, zverev will keep getting stronger, and he has the game and mental strength to do it. On Cuevas, I honestly see him making the final, all depends which wawrinka shows up.

        • Pablo in the finals? Semis I can see but at that point in the tournament someone like Stan Jo or Marin with more grand slam XP should be able to take down Cuevas there.

          • It’s on stans racket in the top half imo, but I’d rate cuevas over those other guys this year at this tournament, but only time will tell!

  2. I think RG will be a early exit and motivation for zverev this year though, as his results are a bit ahead of his game on clay though. Watch out a Wimbledon though.

    • I think it’s far too easy to get carried away with Zverev. He’s on the right track for sure, bit predictions about when he will be #1 are premature. It’s not like Theim or Goffin are going anywhere. Also the top four are not done yet.

      Murray and Novak still have some good years left. Rafa can be around for at least another year or two.

      It is not a given that Zverev will be #1. I think he has a lot of potential, but am not about to project him as #1 yet.

      • Goffin is a nice player but I’d be shocked if he were ever competing for #1. Thiem will likely be the better claycourter, but zverev better elsewhere I think. I could be wrong of course, I think Zverev has something special that separates him from the very good players: raonic, goffin, Berdych etc…

        • I don’t disagree with you. I actually think the same about Zverev, that he has something that separates him from the rest. So I don’t mean to talk him down at all. I actually think he has enormous potential, but just tend to be cautious with my predictions. I have seen too many promising young guys not realize their potential.

          I also think Zverev needs to work on fitness and movement. There is still more work to be done.

          I think the possibilities are huge for Zverev. I hope his team works with him to maximize his chances.

          • I’m still firmly on the Sascha bandwagon — he’s super! Sure, I don’t think he’ll win a GS this year or be #1 anytime soon. But he’s fun to watch.

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