Zverev inspired by season-ending success

Published by Matt Trollope

Alexander Zverev celebrates victory at the ATP Finals; Getty Images
After claiming the biggest title of his career at the ATP Finals, Alexander Zverev is targeting further improvements, and bigger results, in 2019.

Rather than relax and celebrate the spoils of his victory at the ATP Finals in London, Alexander Zverev instead seems more motivated than ever to build on this milestone.

The 21-year-old claimed the biggest title of his career in London with an emphatic victory over Novak Djokovic, who was widely tipped to win the title after four straight-sets victories en route to the final.

It followed a straight-sets win over Roger Federer in the semifinals, making him the first player in history to beat the iconic duo at the same edition of the ATP Finals.

While admitting he was looking forward to a much-needed holiday after a gruelling season, Zverev indicated he already had an eye on next year.

“I’m going to go on holidays and enjoy my time there. And then afterwards I’m going to do everything I can to prepare myself,” he said.

“I’m going to work really hard, I’m going to do a lot of stuff in the off-season and then we’ll see what 2019 brings.

“(Djokovic and Federer) are still going to be the guys to beat at the big tournaments,” Zverev added when chatting to atpworldtour.com. “I will do everything I can to get better, to compete with them always. I feel like I’m doing that. But I still have a lot of things to improve. I’m still very young. Hopefully, next year, I’ll be able to play better tennis than I did this year, even though it’s been a good year.”

It was a season of consolidation for Zverev, who for the second year running will finish at world No.4.

There was a third career Masters title in Madrid, the successful defence of his trophies in Washington DC and Munich, and a win-loss record of 58-19, making him the tour leader in match wins. He came close to adding more Masters titles to his 2018 haul, falling just short against John Isner in Miami and against Rafael Nadal in Rome.

What was particularly impressive was how he performed in London given the comparative lack of form he carried into the season-ending event.

Following his victory in Washington DC in early August he failed to reach another final, suffering early-round losses at Cincinnati, Flushing Meadows and Beijing. He’d been pummelled 6-2 6-1 by Djokovic in the Shanghai Masters semis and suffered a near-identical loss to Karen Khachanov in the Paris Masters quarters. In between, he had a golden opportunity to progress to the Basel final, but was upset by 93rd-ranked qualifier Marius Copil in the semifinals.

And then there was his impressive rebound against Djokovic, who allowed him just five games when they met in the round-robin stage of the tournament.

According to Djokovic’s strategic consultant Craig O’Shannessy, Zverev upped the aggression in the final, surprising Djokovic in the first set to the point the Serb was unable to recover.

“Once the rally matured past the serve and return stage into a baseline contest in set one, Zverev employed a very aggressive down-the-line strategy that was aimed at making Djokovic have to hit the ball on the run,” O’Shannessy explained.

“Zverev’s overall first-serve percentage this season is 64 per cent (3277/5117), but he made an eye-opening 86 per cent in the first set. (He) stepped into returns in the opening set and blasted them back at Djokovic at will.

“Zverev brought the farm in set one, and it paved the way to the biggest title of his career.”

Part of that approach could be down to Ivan Lendl’s influence. Zverev in August added the Czech-American legend to his entourage; Lendl previously enjoyed a fruitful partnership with Andy Murray and is widely attributed with adding the sting to Murray’s game that helped the Scot break through for three Grand Slam titles.

“He obviously analysed the match that I played with him a few days ago (and) told me a few things I had to do different. I was more aggressive today. I tried to take the ball earlier,” Zverev said. “Obviously (with) Ivan, the experience he has on and off the court, is amazing.

“But my Dad is the one that gave me the base. My Dad is the one that taught me the game of tennis. My dad deserves the most credit out of everyone. I’m very thankful to him for that.

“It’s quite astonishing, winning this title, beating two such players back-to-back, Roger (Federer) and Novak, in semifinals and final. It means so much. I’m incredibly happy and incredibly proud of this moment right now.”

Zverev discussed the confidence he had in his serve and his ability to “enjoy the moment” as other factors in his run to the title in London.

Maintaining this mental positivity will be essential if he is to push on to the next frontier – Grand Slam success.

It may be harsh to describe a 21-year-old as having underperformed at the majors but the fact remains he has been unable to translate his form at the Masters events and against big names to the five-set format of Grand Slam tennis.

In 14 Grand Slam main draws, Zverev has reached just one quarterfinal – at Roland Garros in May. There he was soundly beaten by Dominic Thiem after dismissing the Austrian in straight sets just a few weeks earlier in the Madrid final.

Yet if his motivation and confidence levels are anything to go by following his ATP Finals breakthrough, that lean record could very easily change for the better in 2019.

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