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Christmas Countdown: Does Alexander Zverev need to win a Slam in 2019?

Leye Aduloju in Opinion 5 Dec 2018
  • Alexander Zverev has struggled to make at impact at the Slams, with his best performance being a quarter final at the 2018 French Open
  • Does Zverev need to win a major title in 2019 if he is to achieve his full potential?
Alexander Zverev. (Photo by PAUL CROCK/AFP/Getty Images)

Alexander Zverev has been built up as the next big thing in tennis; a future great who will go on to become No. 1 in the world, and win numerous Grand Slam titles, but if all of that is to happen, the German has got to start delivering sooner rather than later. is celebrating the off-season with a Christmas countdown series of articles in which our editors give their take on the burning questions facing tennis in 2019, from the stars to the schedule to the sport’s very structure. You can find the master list of articles here – and feel free to join in the debate via our Twitter and Facebook pages!

Zverev is approaching 15 consecutive months as a top five player, but he has only ever made one Grand Slam quarter final, at Roland Garros in 2018.

The argument often offered in defence of Zverev's poor Grand Slam record is that he is still quite young, which is fair enough, but for how long will he continue to be 'quite young' before he runs out of time? Is the window for greatness really that wide?

Rafael Nadal was a Grand Slam champion at 19, Novak Djokovic was a major winner by 20, Roger Federer won his first Slam at 21, Pete Sampras at 19, Andre Agassi, 22; Zverev will be 22 next April.

Comparing Zverev to these modern day beasts is absolute nonsense, but the aforementioned players do provide some sort of guidance to greatness, and if Zverev is to be anywhere near as successful as these guys, now is the time to start delivering. He has got to strike in 2019.

Alexander Zverev. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)
Talent is clearly not the problem, but if talent alone was the determinant to greatness, then Grigor Dimitrov, David Nalbandian and Richard Gasquet should be owning Grand Slam titles by now. Zverev obviously has a mental block at the majors, and it will only get heavier the longer he stays without winning a Slam.

What has been particularly worrying is the nature of his Grand Slam exits, with the German constantly making a complete harsh of some very accommodating draws. In the last two seasons, he has suffered Grand Slam defeats against Philip Kohlschreiber, Ernest Gulbis, Dominic Thiem, Hyeon Chung, Borna Coric, Milos Raonic, Fernando Verdasco and Rafael Nadal. 

While losses against Nadal (Australian Open 2017) and Raonic (Wimbledon 2017) are excusable, we cannot ignore the fact that he was two-sets-to-one up in both matches, and faded badly in the fifth sets. That would be a recurring theme in 2018, when he suffered final-set bagels against Chung and Gulbis in Australia and Wimbledon.

And when he is not capitulating in final sets, he is scratching around listlessly in four-set losses against Coric, Verdasco and Kohlschreiber. There's obviously something missing from the Zverev arsenal, and it has nothing to do with forehands and backhands.

Many will point to five-set victories over Dusan Lajovic, Damir Dzumhur and Karen Khachanov at Roland Garros as prove that he can keep his concentration and level over the best of five sets, but let's face it, he had no business digging such holes for himself, especially given the form he had shown in the lead up to the tournament, when he was arguably the second best player on clay after Nadal.

Zverev had run out of gas by the time he took on Dominic Thiem in the French Open quarter finals. (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
How can a man who trounced Thiem so convincingly in the Madrid final, and bossed Nadal in Rome (until the rain saved the King of Clay) become so uncertain against Dzumhur and Lajovic? Oh, it's a Slam. It's the pressure. It's the weight of expectation. And at the moment, Zverev has no idea how to deal with it.

Zverev is a confident man, but his failure to perform at Grand Slam level will continue to bite into that confidence, and I genuinely fear for him if he doesn't get that breakthrough next year. The ideal scenario for him would be to win a Slam, a couple of very deep runs would be seen as progress, but what he cannot afford is another mediocre campaign at the majors.

Zverev is the stand-out player among his Next Generation peers, but the gap is not as wide as it once was. Borna Coric, Karen Khachanov, Stefanos Tsitsipas and Daniil Medvedev are all in the top 20, while Hyeon Chung and Denis Shapovalov are not too far behind.

Zverev is not the only young gun beating 'Big 4' players these days- Tsitsipas defeated four top-ten players in Toronto, Khachanov beat Djokovic in the Paris final, while Coric beat Federer twice in 2018. More importantly, Zverev has an average record against his contemporaries, and he lost to Coric, Khachanov and Tsitsipas in 2018. The German is no longer all by himself in this Next Gen business.

With the other young guns gaining ground furiously, Zverev needs to reassert himself in 2019, else they will all be at par again. The best way to do that is to step up to the next level and win a Grand Slam. If he gets one in 2019, he could get a couple more very quickly, and then the floodgates may well open up.

The other thing to consider is his health. The German has been largely injury free in the last couple of seasons, but given his 6ft 6in frame, and a fairly physical style of play, one cannot completely rule out the possibility of injuries in future, and who knows what that might do to his form and confidence. 

If Zverev doesn't win a Slam in 2019, it wouldn't be the end of the world- Stan Wawrinka and Andy Murray have shown that you can win majors relatively later in your career- but the longer he lingers, the greater the pressure, and the quicker his contemporaries catch up.

That wouldn't necessarily be a bad thing for men's tennis, as the more equal the competition, the better for the sport in my opinion. It's highly unlikely that we ever get another era like the Federer-Nadal-Djokovic era, but I like what I see of the Next Gen. There is plenty of quality and personality in there- from Zverev to Tsitsipas, Coric to Chung, Shapovalov and Khachanov. They may not be as ruthless as the current rulers of the sport, but I think it makes for a very exciting future.

Check back tomorrow for the next in our Christmas countdown series!

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Christmas Countdown: Does Alexander Zverev need to win a Slam in 2019?

Alexander Zverev has been earmarked as the next big thing in tennis; a future great who will go on to become No. 1 in the world, and win numerous Grand Slam titles, but if all of that is to happen, the German has got to start delivering sooner rather than later. Does Zverev need to win a Slam in 2019?

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