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Alexander Zverev on Ivan Lendl partnership: 'I don't need to be put in a corner'

Hannah Wilks in ATP Tour 16 Nov 2018
  • Alexander Zverev denied needing to be disciplined by stone-faced coach Ivan Lendl
  • Zverev faces Roger Federer in Saturday's Nitto ATP Finals semifinals
Alexander Zverev celebrates victory over John Isner at the Nitto ATP Finals (Photo by Glyn KIRK / AFP)

Alexander Zverev denied needing to be disciplined by coach Ivan Lendl, after reaching the semifinals of the Nitto ATP Finals and setting up a clash with Roger Federer.

With Ivan Lendl in his corner, Alexander Zverev has reached one of the biggest semifinals of his career at the Nitto ATP Finals - but denies that he needs an infusion of discipline from his coach. 

Zverev, who at 21 is the youngest man in the eight-man field at the season-ending championships, defeated John Isner in straight sets 7-6(5), 6-3 in his final round-robin match to finish second in Group Guga Kuerten behind Novak Djokovic. 

LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 10: Alexander Zverev talks with coach Ivan Lendl during a practice session prior to the Nitto ATP World Tour Finals at The O2 Arena on November 10, 2018 in London, England. (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
He will face the man who finished top of Group Lleyton Hewitt, Roger Federer, in Saturday's semifinals.

Zverev teamed up with Lendl, a famously stone-faced and seemingly severe presence in the box during his successful tenure with former world no. 1 Andy Murray, in August after splitting with his previous coach, Juan Carlos Ferrero. 

Ferrero complained that Zverev was consistently 20-30 minutes late for training.

Zverev was asked on Wednesday if Lendl had brought greater discipline and strictness to his training and fitness regimen.

'If you’re going to be strict with me with rules and stuff, the relationship is not going to last very long,' Zverev responded. 'He understood that very quickly, I think.'

On Friday, Zverev was asked if he was joking when he made those comments about Lendl.

'It surprised me that he’s actually a very, very nice guy,' Zverev said. 'I didn’t know it. He’s an unbelievable guy, actually. He’s very warm-hearted. The people he’s close to, he really loves, and does everything for them, which I admire a lot. I try to be the same way.

'But I don’t need to be put in a corner. I know what I want. I come late to things sometimes, to non-important things, to dinner, or I come five minutes late to the car when it leaves – not to training or anything like that. I am very, very disciplined. I work hard. I like it because I know what I want, and I want to be the best. With any other attitude, you will not be.'

Germanys Alexander Zverev throws his racquet after a point against Serbias Novak Djokovic during their mens singles round-robin match on day four of the ATP World Tour Finals tennis tournament at the O2 Arena in London on November 14, 2018. (Photo by Glyn KIRK / AFP) (Photo credit should read GLYN KIRK/AFP/Getty Images)
Zverev has already drawn some fire for comments he made this week about the length of the season. After losing 4-6, 1-6 to Novak Djokovic in what was his 74th match of the season, Zverev responded to questions about whether he was feeling his best by addressing the demands the calendar makes on top players.

'We play for 11 months a year. That’s ridiculous. No other professional sport does that,' he said.

Former world no. 1 Yevgeny Kafelnikov called Zverev's comments 'bulls**t' on Twitter.

Facing off with Isner on Friday, needing to win the match in order to reach the semifinals after beating Marin Cilic but losing to Djokovic, Zverev looked much sharper than he had done against the Serb. In what was a rematch of the Miami Masters final, Zverev reversed the result by dint of out-serving the 6'10" American, outshining him in almost all service categories: He served more aces (18 to 10), landed a higher percentage of first serves (75% to 62%) and won a higher proportion of points behind his first serve (85% to 73%). 

Zverev was also consistently aggressive, attacking at the first opportunity and seizing his chances to move forward - something the German is sometimes criticized for not doing as much as he might. 

'Everyone knows how good he is, how much of a complete player he is,' Isner said. 'In order for me to beat him, I have to out-serve him, and I didn't do that today. He served pretty well, I thought. I felt like he aced me a bunch.

'I think he was pretty dialed in on his serve, which was of course very important. A lot of times with me it comes down to a few points here or there. I had the one break point, and he aced me. That's a credit to him. That's why he's ranked what he's ranked. He was better.'

Zverev's position is an ambivalent one. He reaps the rewards, in terms of such things as appearance fees and endorsement deals, of being the best-known, best-established young player in a sport which is desperate for youthful male stars to emerge, in anticipation of the retirement of its ageing icons Federer, Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray. On the other hand, he also bears the brunt of the criticism directed at the failure of those generations of players who have come after the 'Big Four' to displace or even seriously challenge the sport's titans.

Making the semifinals of the year-end championships is in many ways the biggest accomplishment of his young career, despite having won three Masters 1000 Series titles (more than any other player outside the 'Big Four'). But even winning the title would only really be considered a valuable accomplishment if it was a stepping-stone to Grand Slam glory, as the example of Grigor Dimitrov shows: The Bulgarian's run to the ATP Finals title in 2017 was greeted with acclaim because it seemed to signal that Dimitrov was finally stepping up as a credible competitor for the sport's biggest titles. When his 2018 season failed to deliver any comparable accomplishments - he didn't come close to qualifying for the ATP Finals in 2017 - it ceased to impress.

In such circumstances, it is perhaps better to be too convinced of one's value to the sport - something Zverev is often accused of - than too little. 

It certainly wouldn't hurt Zverev's credibility if he could beat Federer in Saturday's semifinals. Zverev has beaten Federer before, in two of their five meetings, and although Federer won when they played in these same conditions 12 months ago, Zverev made it a competitive encounter (something that has been in supply at the ATP Finals this week). But Federer, who holds a record six ATP Finals titles, secured his qualification for the semifinals by expertly neutralizing a big server in the form of Kevin Anderson. Zverev served his way into the semifinals. It isn't a good equation.

'Obviously it's going to be a very difficult match,' Zverev said. 'I mean, [Roger] on this surface, an indoor court, he's an unbelievable player.'

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Alexander Zverev on Ivan Lendl partnership: 'I don't need to be put in a corner'

Alexander Zverev denied needing to be disciplined by coach Ivan Lendl, after reaching the semifinals of the Nitto ATP Finals and setting up a clash with Roger Federer

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