With more than a nod to plain-speaking Russian and German heritage, Alexander Zverev does not indulge lip service.
Reputedly paid a small fortune in development funding by the German Tennis Federation, feted by swarms of commentators, already resident in the world’s top 25 and routinely touted as a future No.1, Zverev is impressively unimpressed by the fanfare. Interviewed after defeat at Wimbledon 2016, Zverev stared down the suggestion that the pressure of being a potential world champion could be crippling.
“For me, no … of course, it’s nice to have attention and stuff like that (but) I’m far away from that,” he said.
“There’s been a million future No.1’s that never got to No.1… There’s always going to be a lot of talk. There’s not really pressure.”
Zverev, 19, will undoubtedly come to understand, if not appreciate, the mechanics of pressure.
For now, he’s firmly entrenched in the ATP’s NextGen fraternity, apparently destined for greatness. At 198 cm and 86 kg, the Russian-bred, German-born baseliner has the physique and pedigree – his father and coach Alexander senior is a former professional, as is his mother Irena, while brother Mischa, ten years older, is sitting just outside the world’s top 50 – to match an increasingly fertile patch of results.
Most comfortable on clay and hard court, Zverev won the Australian Open junior singles and was runner-up at the French Open juniors.
Since establishing a foothold among the elite, Zverev has split his time at training bases in Florida, Hamburg and Monte Carlo.
Alert to the need to construct a fitness base capable of withstanding the fiercest challenge. Zverev hired Andy Murray’s former conditioner Jez Green.
“I think we all know that we have a lot of hard work still ahead of us. We’re not where we all want to be,” Zverev said at Indian Wells, referring to the burgeoning rivalry he hopes to share with Nick Kyrgios, Borna Coric, and Dominic Thiem.
“We have a lot of physical work ahead of us, a lot of tennis work ahead of us. So I think the one who is going to do the most work is the one who is going to be the most successful.
“I just want to be the best player I can be.
“It doesn’t mean that I have to be No. 1, it doesn’t mean that I have to be a Grand Slam champion. Of course, that’s what I’m looking for, that’s what all of our young guys’ work is for. That’s my ultimate goal, but I want to be the best I can, and always work hard.”
Zverev’s willingness to toil is matched by a genuine passion for tennis – from his earliest introduction to the sport.
“When I was barely one year old, I used to spend my time pushing a ball around the apartment with a racquet, so my parents started taking me out with them to the courts,” he said.
“From the age of five, I played around half-an-hour to an hour every day. My parents worked at the club and they finished late, and I used to say to them ‘Come on, let’s play for a while’ and they always did, even though it was seven or eight in the evening.”
Brother Mischa has related that even as a 10-year-old, Alexander was a handy practice partner at tour events. Almost a decade on, the older Zverev remains an invaluable asset.
“It was not like somebody pushed me into the sport … I always wanted to beat Mischa,” he said. “It was always a nice competition between the two of us.
“Mischa helped me a great deal when I turned pro. He has been on the circuit for such a long time, so he can give me advice and information on players.
“They (his family) help me keep my feet on the ground, tell me what’s good for me and what isn’t. Without them – my father and my brother – I wouldn’t be where I am now.
“It’s nice to get noticed but we all know that I still have a lot of work ahead of me and ahead of us before I can reach my best level.”
So to an apparently glistening future and areas of improvement?
“I think physically, and then obviously, playing more consistent, playing closer to the baseline I think a little bit, trying to be as aggressive as I am throughout the whole match, which sometimes I don’t do.” said Zverev, who is targeting the consistency that top 10 peers demonstrate with regular final and semifinal runs.
“But, you know, there’s room for improvement in everything.
“At the moment, I’m just looking to win matches. Obviously everyone grows up dreaming of winning a Grand Slam and that is clearly what I am working towards.
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