By Luca Baldissera
Alexander Zverev is showcasing an extraordinary mix of talent and intensity at an impressively young age, while he still has massive room for improvement along with a real shot at greatness.
As a tennis analyst, I have never been a big fan of forecasting the future, given also the enormous complexity and potential diversity of the tennis world. Countless factors can influence a player’s results and career. From his shot-making abilities to his physical development and mental approach to the game, setbacks are always around the corner. In spite of this skepticism, I couldn’t agree more with Rafael Nadal when he said that “Alexander Zverev is clearly a future No. 1. He’s an amazing player. He has all the shots.”
I had the opportunity to witness a practice session between Zverev and Nick Kyrgios during last year’s Australian Open and I was absolutely impressed by the Hamburg native’s remarkable talent. A few days later I also watched him practice with the legendary Roger Federer in front of great hordes of devoted fans that gathered around court 18 at Melbourne Park. Federer is known for distinctively selecting his training partners based on exceptionally high standards and his decision to practice with young Zverev was definitely not a coincidence. Their practice session was absolutely stunning. Both players were striking the ball beautifully and to everyone’s surprise it was the German teen-ager that looked the most powerful and explosive of the two.
In any case, when two of the greatest legends in the history of our sport predict that a player is destined to become a champion of the highest caliber, their opinion can’t be underestimated. From a technical point of view, Alexander Zverev has all of the qualities that could potentially take him to number one in the world if he manages to remain both physically and mentally healthy throughout his career. In my opinion he could be sitting at the top of the rankings within two or three years from now.
The German is as technically flawless as his next-gen rival Dominic Thiem. We definitely look forward to plenty of epic battles between the two rising stars in the future. Alexander’s best shot has always been his impeccable two-handed backhand, although his forehand has impressively improved during the last season and has now become equally smooth and effective. His first serve is usually a bomb clocked at 200 km/h and his second serve has tremendous spin and accuracy. His athleticism still remains a minor question mark and it is interesting to see how this young man will manage his muscle growth in the next few years. Despite his 6′ 6″ height, his coordination is already outstanding and relies on excellent footwork.
His crazy talent sometimes reminds me of Martin Safin. In the vein of the great Russian player, Zverev can easily produce sudden injections of pace, consistently seize opportunities both cross-court and down-the-line, effortlessly hit inside out winners and construct successful plays from seemingly defensive positions.
For many years we asked ourselves what Marat Safin could have achieved in our sport if only had he applied a more disciplined work ethic to his training regime. I personally think that the answer to that question will be Alexander Zverev. There are certain qualities that differentiate a champion from other players, either you have those qualities or you don’t. And Zverev has them all. Compared to other fast rising stars, he seems to be ahead of his contemporaries, particularly with regard to the mental part of the game. I am convinced that sooner or later someone like Nick Kyrgios will be perfectly capable of winning a Grand Slam title, but I have a hard time imagining him sustain a high level of performance throughout an entire season. Zverev is quite the opposite and his commitment is second to none. His older brother Misha – a former top 50 player – probably played a key role in Alexander’s development on the ATP tour and taught him how to maximize his potential.
Let’s take a closer look at Zverev’s game. His two-handed backhand is pure perfection: A combination of continental-eastern grips, perfect left foot rotation, powerful right foot support and good roundness. His weight is horizontally transferred from the knee to the ball along with a precise 90° shoulder rotation. His follow-through is extremely accurate while the bottom portion of his racket handle is precisely looking in the direction of the shot.
Alexander can master his slice backhand with ease. He has the ability to stay low while maintaining his coordination from a lateral recovery position. His racket head movement from a high to low direction is impeccable and leads to a horizontal-forward finish. His left arm action is symmetrical with the right arm and his knees are bent while keeping a low center of gravity. In the upper right frame, the ball is probably 12 inches from the ground; if we look at his point of contact, we can see that his racket is as low as his mid-calf. This allows him to slice the ball with simplicity despite his 6′ 6″ height.
Alexander is hitting a forehand with vertical swing, semi-open stance and western grip. His weight is transferred from the right to left foot while his left hand is used to balance the racket, which is held vertically in order to unleash the head and begin the backswing. The middle frame at the top is capturing the moment in which his racket is going backwards and body weight is on the right foot, while his left foot is slightly raised. The middle frame at the bottom is showing the point of contact while his body weight is entirely on the left foot. His right foot is projected forwards following the hip and knee entry.
Alexander is hitting a forehand from an open stance. In the upper left frame, we can see that his left hand has just abandoned the racket while kicking off the backswing. Both feet are about to align parallel to the net. Subsequently, his body weight is transferred to the right foot; his left foot is first dragged sideways before coming up off the ground at the point of contact in order to balance the action of his hip and right knee. His left foot will touch the ground again at the conclusion of the final “windshield wiper”, which here is much more pronounced than in the forehand with vertical swing that we discussed before. In summary, Alexander can easily play a forehand down-the-line with little spin from a semi-stance as well as with full top spin from an open stance. Remarkable to say the least.
Here is a very interesting detail concerning Alexander’s right foot during his service motion. His technique is known as “foot-up”, which means that his rear foot is taking a small step forward during the action. In the middle frame, as soon as the ball is tossed up in the air, his body weight is on the left foot. His right foot is beginning to move forward with a slight external tip-toe rotation until his heel is touching the front foot.
Immediately after hitting his front foot with the right heel, his right foot is “bouncing back” with a rotation towards the inside, and is leaning parallel to the left foot. In the middle frame, Zverev is bringing his right knee towards his left knee while his shoulders are still wide open and his motion is reaching the “trophy position.” His body rotation continues to point vertically while his legs and right shoulder are joining the action at the last moment and all of this energy is powerfully transferred up to the point of contact. In this regard, Zverev vaguely reminds me of Karlovic, who is a master in using the strength of his shoulders thanks to his tall height.
Here is the beautiful conclusion of Zverev’s service motion, with a strong and fast pronation of his wrist and forearm while his arm/racket, hip and left foot are perfectly aligned at the point of contact (middle frame). A truly top class serve.
In order to analyze Alexander’s footwork and court coverage, it is interesting to watch this video from last year’s US Open. Dynamic split steps, extremely quick cross-steps, powerful strides from defensive positions, lightning recovery toward the center of the baseline and incredibly low balls retrieving are only a few of the great qualities that stand out in Zverev’s athleticism. Marat Safin was an outstanding tennis player, but he could only dream of moving as well as Zverev does. We are witnessing the rise of an extremely talented 19 year old who plays with incredibly easy power, shows great composure in pressure situations, flies around the court with an efficient footwork, trains as hard as anyone and has a cool head on his shoulders. As soon as he adds more muscle to his frame and gets more experience under his belt, tennis will surely have a new multiple Grand Slam champion.
(Article translation provided by T&L Global – Translation & Language Solutions – www.t-lglobal.com)
Laver Cup: As Europe’s blue reign, myriad hues peek out in event’s latest iteration
The 2019 Laver Cup showed all over again why it was an opportunity for tennis to be diverse in its offering.
Twelve matches spread over a three-day weekend later, Laver Cup has modified the proverbial face and scope of men’s tennis. It is still viewed sceptically as a disruptor to routine, individual-focused tennis matches in certain pockets. Yet, the singularity it has brought into the midst of the prevalent concept of individuality is irrevocable.
In the third year of the event’s emergence, these aspects are repetitive. However, Laver Cup’s display re-lit the theme of a team before a player. It also elevated it to heights not seen in its previous two editions. This showed in the players’ camaraderie with each other. As it did in the numerous coaching tips that came from the bench from Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer, and even Nick Kyrgios towards their fellow squad members.
Broadly, it was laid out in how the Laver Cup changed the subject from who would win the most Slams to which part of the globe would be victorious. For once, the conversation did not focus on 20 Slams versus 19, as it had come to be after Nadal’s win at the US Open. It was riveted on how two sportsmen with 39 Slams between them could set aside their competitiveness towards a common goal for a still-mushrooming tourney.
— Laver Cup (@LaverCup) September 22, 2019
“Winning (as) teams is just amazing because you celebrate together. It’s a very special thing. Honestly, I really hope that this new and young generation keeps supporting this event because this event is special,” Nadal said after Team Europe’s three-peat on Sunday. “We need to make this event stronger and stronger because the atmosphere that we leave here is difficult to find in other places.”
The 33-year-old’s statements, aside from setting aside any cynicism about his involvement in the event this year, emphasised the growth Laver Cup has had in its three years. Nadal’s participation in Laver Cup’s inaugural year was seen as a novelty, a continuation of his and Federer’s triumphant return to the Tour after an injury-troubled 2016. Novak Djokovic’s inclusion in Europe’s 2018 squad was viewed as a reiteration that the event was a fad, where top-ranked players would make a one-off appearance, before stepping away.
In 2019, the 12-time French Open champion’s return contradicted this previously-held supposition. This shifting of perceptions is why Laver Cup has turned problematic to the Tour’s other mainstay events.
If Laver Cup were to be regarded as merely an exhibition, a tournament with no relevance to how the ATP tour progressed year-on-year with its usual clanking schedule, all of the players’ emotiveness and reactions would have been on par with the idea of livening it up for its sake.
On the other hand, when two former world no. 1s were heard sternly telling their touted successor not to be negative for the rest of his match, it was hard to convince that the whole atmosphere was made-up.
Though, it does bear noting that not being put-on and the ease with which it has been assimilated in tennis’ mainstay have been the catalysts for Laver Cup’s disparaging mooting in certain circles.
The past weekend it coincided with a couple of ATP tournaments, in St. Petersburg and Metz. Both events had several interesting match-ups of their own. Followers deeply vested in the sport knew the happenings across all tournaments held last week. But for casual viewers, it would have come down to picking one event over the rest.
The factoring in of this unnecessary chasm added to the enervation around tennis by making one take sides in a sport that is already at crossroads, without Laver Cup even being mentioned.
Yet, if it were about inclusivity, selectivity in audiences’ preferences is the other side of tennis’ coin. These choices cannot always remain aligned, even in accepting or discarding the tri-day tournament as a consequential pursuit. As Nadal opined, when asked to compare between his other title wins and his Laver Cup team win, “…every single thing is different and is important by itself.”
Nothing Tops Star Power At U.S. Open
Charleston Post and Courier columnist James Beck reflects on this year’s US Open.
NEW YORK — Tennis is still all about who’s playing the game.
Parents watch their kids grow up through their junior tennis days. Then maybe college tennis.
But when it comes to watching big-time tennis such as at the U.S. Open, nothing tops star power. That was never more evident than Friday and Saturday in Arthur Ashe Stadium.
NEW YORK CROWD UNSURE ABOUT MEDVEDEV
Russia’s Daniil Medvedev is red hot this summer, first on the U.S. Open series where he lost in two finals before winning in Cincinnati. And then he made the U.S. Open final.
But the New York crowd doesn’t get very excited about the 6’6″ wonder. Empty seats were plentiful Friday afternoon when Medvedev knocked off Grigor Dimitrov in the first men’s semifinal. Even if the crowds weren’t excited about Medvedev, they should have been thrilled to see Dimitrov. Obviously, the fans weren’t too happy that Dimitrov had taken down Roger Federer in the quarterfinals.
But, suddenly, when Rafa Nadal took center court for the second semifinal, fans were everywhere. That was for a match against a relative newcomer to big-time tennis. Matteo Berrettini could play, but he was no equal for Nadal.
NADAL MAKES EMPTY SEATS DISAPPEAR
Yet, it was time to be sure you were in the correct seat. The empty seats had disappeared.
The U.S. Open had switched gears. It had gone from the frenzied atmosphere of young
Americans Coco Gaulf, Caty McNally and Taylor Townsend to a different reality.
The old-timers, better known as all-timers, might be nearing the end of the road in big-time tennis. Yes, the list includes even Serena Williams.
Nadal took care of his end of the bargain with the fans by turning away Berrettini in sraight sets to secure his day, and a spot in the final against Medvedev.
Serena couldn’t save her day in Saturday’s women’s final, despite the efforts of a packed stadium of wildly cheering supporters. Nineteen-year-old Canadian Bianca Andreescu simply was better on this day.
ANDREESCU MIGHT BE FOR REAL
Of course, Andreescu has plenty of time to set records and win fans. Serena rallied from 5-1 down in the second set, and appeared headed for another possible magical win when she tied the set at 5-5.
In the end, Serena failed again in her attempt to win a record-tying 24th Grand Slam title in a 6-3, 7-5 loss to Andreescu.
Serena might have made 2018 champion Naomi Osaka’s career a year earlier when Serena couldn’t notch Grand Slam title No. 24 then, either. Now, Andreescu may be ready to make her mark on the game. Getting by Serena was a big step. Andreescu might join the all-timers one day.
When another Grand Slam season gets underway in January in Australia, the tennis world really might be turned upside down. Novak Djokovic’s early departure along with the 38-year-old Federer’s and Stan Wawrinka’s losses in the next round were shocking, along with the early collapse of all of the super women’s stars except Serena.
SERENA, FEDERER AND NADAL IN A DIFFERENT WORLD
The young women’s stars such as Osaka, Sloane Stephens, Madison Keys, Simona Halep and Ashleigh Barty, along with Medvedev, Berrettini, Dominic Thiem, Stefanos Tsitsipas and Felix Auger-Aliassime among the men aren’t likely to evolve into all-time stars the way Serena, Federer and Nadal have.
That’s just the reality of big-time tennis. Serena, Federer and Nadal are players for the ages, just like Rod Laver was. Their fan bases are in for a major change, or they can switch to the sometimes unpredictability of this new group.
James Beck is the long-time tennis columnist for the Charleston (S.C.) Post and Courier newspaper. He can be reached at Jamesbecktennis@gmail.com. See his Post and Courier columns at
2019 US Open: A common road led by contrasting routes for Dominik Koepfer and Hyeon Chung
Amid the huddle of early-round exits and some scattered withdrawals, a couple of players made the most of opportunities they received at the 2019 US Open. Dominik Koepfer and Hyeon Chung came through the qualifying rounds to win their initial couple of rounds with conviction and make their way forward even as rest of the playing field blew open around them.
Being qualifiers is the denominator common to them this week. Yet, in a way, the 23-year-old Chung is trudging a familiar route as compared with the 25-year-old Koepfer who is a relative newer face to watch at the Slams.
In 2018, Chung had made it to his first semi-final at a Major – at the Australian Open – taking down then six-time champion Novak Djokovic in the fourth round. The 2017 Next Gen ATP Finals’ titlist reached a career-high of 19 in the world after his Australian Open jaunt in 2018. Koepfer, on the other hand, is yet to break into the top-100 – with a career-high of no. 113 attained in the second-week of August. His best result at the Majors – before his fourth-round appearance at the US Open – was reaching the second round at Wimbledon this year.
None of these differences in the respective roads they have travelled on the Tour mattered as they tried to make it to the main draw. Chung’s injuries that kept him away from the circuit (for almost five months this year) meant he had to start from scratch, at the Challenger level. Koepfer’s being a mainstay on the Challenger circuit – for now – meant he, too, would start from the same position.
In doing so, the sport has made levellers out of them. Their past results do not matter. It is how they do against the opponent of the day that matters. Three qualifying rounds followed by the sterner main-draw test that also comes by way of lengthier matches. In this regard, Chung has already faced two such difficult matches in his first two rounds this week against Ernesto Escobedo and Fernando Verdasco in which he had to play five-setters to extricate himself.
The draw’s narrowing has also meant the task ahead of them has gotten harder. This is also where their paths diverge once again. If Tulane University alumnus in Koepfer is the equivalent of a dark horse, Chung’s previous experience makes him a dangerous floater.
If the two end up being truthful to this tag of theirs, the chaos component at this year’s US Open will be the accentuation separating itself from the monotonous.
Dominic Thiem and Jannik Sinner grab the headlines in Vienna
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(VIDEO) Roger Federer, Alexander Zverev Guide Europe To Laver Cup Glory
(VIDEO) US Open Day 14: Rafael Nadal Ends The Tournament With An Extraordinary Win
(VIDEO) US Open Day 12: Bianca Andreescu Is The Queen Of New York
(VIDEO) US Open Day 12: Daniil Medvedev Stands In The Way Of Nadal’s 19th Grand Slam Title
(VIDEO) US Open Day 11: Why Bianca Andreescu Toppling Williams Will Not Be A Shock
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