At the ATP Finals in London one year ago, Alexander Zverev achieved the greatest success of his young tennis career. Now he's back as defending champion, but he is not among the favorites.
London's a fine place if you're looking for a good night out, a fact not lost on Alexander Zverev. Germany's best men's tennis player was in the stands for last week's Champions League match between Chelsea and Ajax at Stamford Bridge and was rewarded with a very entertaining 4-4 draw.
Visiting the English capital probably agrees with Zverev anyway, particularly in November, for it's been a year since he won the ATP finals in London,his biggest success of his career to date. Now he's back as the defending champion. At first glance, everything looks okay but, on closer inspection, not so much.
A year ago, Zverev was the No. 3 men's player in the world rankings and everything was right with his world. After winning the title in London, more than a few experts predicted that it would only be a matter of time before he climbed to No. 1. But what a difference a year makes! Nobody, least of all Zverev himself, could have predicted how difficult the year that followed his crowning achievement (so far) would be.
Zverev's excessive demands
First there was the protracted parting of the ways with his longtime manager Patricio Apey, a process that got quite ugly, taking a mental toll and sapping Zverev's energy. Apart from the psychological strain, the 22-year-old also found himself confronted with mundane tasks such as booking flights and hotels, or registering for tournaments - things that he had not had to deal with previously.
Things weren't working out with coach Ivan Lendl either. The player and his coach, who Zverev had hired in August 2018 quietly decided to take a break from one another, a move that they didn't go public with. The two clearly had differing views on the future direction of the young German's game.
As if this wasn't enough, Zverev's father, who had accompanied him to tennis tournaments since his childhood, had to be hospitalized for an extended period, something that played on the player's mind and hurt his focus on tennis. More than once Zverev complained openly in media interviews, an indication of just how overwhelmed he was by the situation. This additional strain eventually served to almost completely throw off his game. This was in evidence in Cincinnati, where he committed 20 double faults in a match - this from a player whose powerful serve is regarded as one of his strengths. By then, Zverev seemed to be lost as a player, unable execute even the simplest of shots on the court.
Boris Becker's criticism
Somehow Zverev turned a corner towards the end of the season and, by virtue of reaching the semifinals in Beijing and the final in Shanghai in October, qualified as one of the world's eight best players for the tournament in London. But he's still coming in for criticism, not least from Boris Becker, the head of the German Tennis Federation (DTB), who recently said he believes that Zverev's development has stagnated.
That's especially true at Grand Slams, where Zverev hasn't managed to fulfill his potential. Indeed, reaching the quarterfinals in Paris at the French Open this year was his best result to date.
"He has to understand that he needs to improve, his opponents have gotten used to his power game. He has to find other elements," Becker said in an interview with Eurosport. Zverev's positioning on the court and his predictability are among the other concerns for Becker, who visited Germany's best male player while he was training in London and will support him in the tournament.
Zverev is now with Roger Federer's management company, Team 8, while his father's health is recovering his health and he can now watch his son from the sidelines. As he no longer has to take care of travel bookings or other administrative matters, the world No. 7 can fully focus on tennis again.
"I've had a difficult year," he said at the draw for the ATP Masters . "But I've managed to qualify and I'm very happy to be here."
Beyond the tournament in London, Alexander Zverev will be hoping for a better 2020.