In a sport dominated by older players – aided by revolutionary modern technologies – the recently concluded Citi Open in Washington was a groundbreaking tournament. For reasons one wouldn’t normally expect. Eight of the 16 seeds were aged 23-and-under. For the first time in over 23 years, all four semifinalists were aged 21-and-under. Alex de Minaur and Alexander Zverev contested what was the youngest ATP final in 11 years. It is hard to believe but refreshing to have so many young talents do the right thing at the same time. Washington title isn’t his first, and neither is it his biggest. Why is it a noteworthy one, then? Because, in Washington, Alexander Zverev took a step in the right direction. He could finally deliver what has long been expected of him.
‘Attack’: A new dimension in Zverev’s repertoire
Zverev has been the brightest prospect in men’s tennis for the past year and a half – improving leaps and bounds to consolidate his status. Greats like Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic have been casualties in his way of announcing himself as a top-tier tennis player. But, despite winning three Masters 1000 titles at just 21 years of age, he’s often found himself guilty of being a little too passive. Whenever put to test, he turned himself into a defensive rock of sorts. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t. When it didn’t, the outcomes were horrendous. Pundits were quick to point out that reluctance to attack will not win him bigger accolades – passivity is not the answer to his problems. Perhaps, his team realized it as well, and the outcome took the form of the Washington title.
Throughout the week, Zverev rarely put a foot wrong in a series of masterful performances. He bombarded his challengers with the huge serve. But, what stood out was his willingness to impose himself with massive forehands and to attack the net at every opportunity. It’s difficult to maintain a rhythm when the person on the other side of the net is constantly shuffling position and attacking with big, penetrating groundstrokes. And the addition of a new dimension in Zverev’s repertoire made life difficult for all the players he faced. Each one of them coming second best by a fair margin. This might have been an important input from Ivan Lendl, with whom Zverev practiced briefly before Washington. Rumors regarding a possible Zverev-Lendl partnership added to the fuel. While that is yet to happen, there are clear signs of an improved Alexander Zverev.
Sticking to the basics in Washington
In the semifinal against Greek teenager Stefanos Tsitsipas, at 4-4 in the second set, Zverev hit a clever slice which Tsitsipas returned with a diving volley. He dived on a hard court, a strict no-no in tennis – risking a threatening injury. Now, this is something Zverev would never do. He might hit massively powerful groundstrokes and jaw-dropping dropshots, but he’ll never, ever showboat. He wouldn’t hit a diving volley like Tsitsipas, a no-look shot like Monfils, or even a between-the-legs shot like Kyrgios.
Late American entrepreneur Jim Rohn once famously said in one of his motivational speeches,
“Success is neither magical nor mysterious. It is the natural consequence of consistently applying basic fundamentals.”
That seems to be Zverev’s definite mantra for success. Whatever tantrums he might throw on the tennis court, his game always sticks to the basics. He almost never overdoes anything. The number one rule to be a better tennis player than others is sticking to the basics. Zverev excels in doing that, especially in best-of-three format where one might get the feeling that he is probably invincible.
Stealing the limelight from Andy Murray
The Citi Open was supposed to be all about British superstar Andy Murray. His proper comeback and subsequent withdrawal due to fatigue and scheduling problems. Deservedly so. Few would bet against a modern-day great to not take away all the limelight. And Andy did, for the most part. His sobbing after the 3rd round win against Marius Copil at 3 AM local time will be etched in fans’ memories for years to come. The yearning to compete and come out as the winner was evident in those tears of joy – and those are often what set legends apart from good players. Zverev’s young, blossoming career has been particularly distinguishable, thanks to this appetite for bigger achievements. In the end, with his dominating wins over all his opponents, he was able to steal the limelight from Andy Murray. He put himself back in contention for a breakthrough run at the US Open.
At the Citi Open in Washington, Alexander Zverev took a step in the right direction. He ticked all boxes needed to win a title with a certain amount of dominance. His serve was thunderous, his backhand was steady as ever. His forehand and controlled aggression were at the center of attention. And, with this improved game and the aforementioned eagerness to compete, Zverev might distinguish himself from the rest of the tour – sooner than we know it.
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