Tennis: Zverev’s Australia plan: looking for rhythm instead of chasing the title

Zverev’s Australia plan: looking for rhythm instead of chasing the title

Alexander Zverev (l) played a bit of tennis with former basketball star Dirk Nowitzki.  Photo: Diego Fedele/AAP/dpa

Alexander Zverev (l) played a bit of tennis with former basketball star Dirk Nowitzki. photo

© Diego Fedele/AAP/dpa

After a long injury break, Alexander Zverev returns to the big tennis stage. He probably won’t win the Australian Open, but here he wants to warm up for a later coup.

Got the first big name Alexander Zverev defeated at the Australian Open before. During training on Thursday, the tennis Olympic champion hit a few felt balls with basketball icon Dirk Nowitzki in Melbourne Park – unsurprisingly with clear advantages for Zverev.

“And, can you?” the Hamburger had previously asked his prominent training partner on the sidelines. Nowitzkionce a tennis champion in Lower Franconia when he was young, answered slightly embarrassed: “Well, if you play right up to me…”.

More important for Zverev than the PR training against the German sports icon was the high-intensity training game shortly beforehand under the bright afternoon sun against his friend Dominic Thiem – and of course the draw at the same time. For the comeback on the Grand Slam stage, Zverev gave the qualifier Juan Pablo Varillas, who only made it into the main draw after a defeat via the lucky loser rule, as the first round opponent. So far so good. that afterwards in Melbourne significantly stronger opponents are waiting and a duel against title favorite Novak Djokovic would be possible in the semifinals is unlikely to concern Zverev at the moment. After a long injury break, he only thinks from game to game.

search for shape

“For me it’s about getting back to my usual form,” the 25-year-old recently said of his main goal at the hard court tournament. His great longing for the first Grand Slam triumph? Will probably remain unsatisfied for the time being. According to Zverev, it is “unrealistic” and even “pretty stupid” to expect the title from him now. Hardly anyone would consider him a contender after his recent performances.

That Zverev, of all people, four days before the start of the tournament Thiem delivered a training match is almost symbolic. After a long injury break, the Austrian has been looking in vain for months for his top form, in Melbourne the 2020 US Open winner is only allowed to start in the main draw thanks to a wildcard.

Zverev’s compulsory break was only half as long at seven months and the slipping to 13th place in the world rankings was not nearly as dramatic as at Thiem. But the German struggles with the same problems: lack of game rhythm and lack of game fitness. That was in the recent United Cup defeats in Sydney against Czech Jiri Lehecka and TaylorFritz clearly recognizable from the USA.

Physically, he was “not yet at the level I need to be at,” Zverev admitted shortly before the turn of the year: “I get tired much faster than before. I’m not as fast as I probably was.” Fritz put it quite uncharmingly: Zverev was “a bit rusty”.

relaxed mood

The Australian Open semi-finalist from 2020 did not show the latest setbacks in the first few days in Melbourne Park, and he also spread a good mood at the benefit event in favor of war-torn Ukraine. “He makes a very good, very relaxed impression here,” said Davis Cup team boss Michael Kohlmann of the German Press Agency. Freed from the title pressure, Zverev appears focused but relaxed.

In a humorous video contribution for the broadcasting TV station Eurosport, the tennis star returned every keyword in a question-and-answer game. His biggest resolution for the new year? “I don’t have one. It only lasts two days, then it’s over.” His most daring forecast for 2023? “Rafael Nadal will sadly retire at the French Open.” His tip for the number 1 in the world rankings at the end of the year? “Me. Because Mischa is sitting behind me.” His brother and manager laughed in the background.

But Mischa Zverev knows that the 19-time ATP tournament winner has absolutely the class to jump to the top. Actually, he could have conquered the world rankings last year and finally celebrated his first Grand Slam title. But the foot injury in the French Open semifinals against Nadal brutally tore Zverev out of all dreams.

Stronger in the head now?

What followed was rehabilitation that was not always smooth, the public announcement of his long-standing diabetes, a postponed comeback in September at the Davis Cup due to bone edema, and a corona infection in November. According to his own statements, he has only been able to train pain-free again for a few weeks. Nevertheless, this difficult phase could still pay off at some point. “He has become stronger and more mature in his head,” said brother Mischa.

Alexander Zverev already has the facilities for a Grand Slam title. Now he has to pick up the rhythm to possibly triumph later in the summer when he returns to the scene of the accident in Paris. “Sascha wins the French Open,” is Mischa Zverev’s daring New Year’s forecast. Preferably in the final against clay court king Nadal, that would be “a good goal for 2023”.


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