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)
A Rude And Silly Reply From Nadal, I Am Waiting For His Apology
I asked Nadal an innocent question about his wedding; he took it so badly that he eventually burst into an offensive: “That’s bullshit”
LONDON – I was really surprised by Rafael Nadal’s reaction to a question that was quite innocent and totally legitimate. A reaction I consider unbecoming of him, rude and silly. I sincerely hope he will extend his apology for this behaviour. Respect remains paramount, no matter if you are the greatest champion or the new kid on the block. In front of everybody, Rafa disrespected me.
I hadn’t seen him since the Laver Cup in Geneva. And in the meantime,… he had gotten married. I had no intention whatsoever to ask a particularly original question or, as I have seen written in some tweets, to “show off”. And I certainly didn’t want to provoke him. Maybe the question did not come out the way I wanted: we always need to be concise during press conferences, and you cannot explain all the details, but what I wanted to ask was simply for him to explain whether the days around his wedding day had been emotional, different from the normal routine made of trainings, forehands and backhands. That’s all, no malicious innuendos, no desire to be irritating or original. I was just curious about what I considered a special moment in his life. Getting married is usually not like taking a walk in the park, even when it is possible to rely on a full team taking care of the arrangements – I assume that was the case for him – and there aren’t many details you have to worry about.
I am sorry I am forced to report such an ill-advised behaviour by Rafa Nadal of all people. He is a champion and, before that, a young man I have always appreciated, with whom I have had a good relationship ever since I saw him play for the first time in Montecarlo. He was just 17 years old, and one night he finished his match against Albert Costa very late, playing under the floodlights, in front of a scattered crowd, when most reporters had already left the Country Club to attend the traditional soirèe the tournament organizes every year at the Monte Carlo Sporting Club, next to the Jimmy’z.
This is the video footage of our exchange at the end of his English-language press conference, before the question time reserved for the Spanish press. Our dialogue starts at 10:50.
In essence, I asked Rafa if by any chance his wedding had been a disrupting element, albeit solemnly important, to his routine. This is the transcript of our interaction, with my notes in brackets.
Q. Tonight you were playing very short many times. I don’t know why, because you’re not used to that. I’d like to know, for many people to get married is a very important distracted thing (in the life of a man and a woman, it was implied) before the marriage, during the marriage, after the marriage. I’d like to know if somehow your concentration on tennis life has been a bit different even if you were going out with the same girl for many, many years (I was implying that it wasn’t love at first sight, I understand it didn’t turn his life upside down, but it still could have had some distracting effect, with the King of Spain being present and all… It wasn’t a small family wedding)
RAFAEL NADAL: Honestly, are you asking me this? Is a serious question or is a joke? Is it serious?
Q. It’s serious. (Off microphone.) Is not something that happens every day (at that point I had no microphone any longer so my retort was not captured by the official transcript), you can experience strong emotions, your parents, your wife, yourself…
RAFAEL NADAL: Okay. I surprise, is a big surprise for me you ask me this after I have been with the same girl for 15 years and having a very stable and normal life.
Doesn’t matter if you put a ring on your finger or not. In my personal way, I am a very normal guy.
Maybe for you was (did he want to add ‘different’) — how many years you have been with your…
Q. Wife 30 years this year.
RAFAEL NADAL: And before?
Q. (off microphone) 5 years
RAFAEL NADAL: Ah, maybe before you were not sure. That’s why (he smiles to the rest of the press room and he adds). Okay. Okay. We move to Spanish, because that’s bullshit. Thank you very much.
Unfortunately, due to some background chatter in the interview room I didn’t hear the “bullshit” word, I just read it on the transcript after a few colleagues made me notice he disrespected me. In fact, as soon as I went back to the press room, all colleagues, French, Swiss, even Spanish expressed their support to me because my question was perfectly legitimate, it was not engaging, mean, embarrassing or indelicate. So much so that when Rafa asked me whether it was a joke or a serious question, I immediately replied “It’s serious”. I was surprised he even had to ask.
The fact that Rafa has been together with Cisca, Francisca, Maria Francisca or Mer for 15 years does not imply that the days around his wedding, with 300 guests, friends, the King of Spain Juan Carlos ans other sporting legends were just like a walk in the park. I wasn’t there, so I don’t know whether Rafa’s parents, or Meri’s parents or some of their close friends cried, were moved to tears, experienced all those emotions that are normally coupled with weddings.
If Rafa did not experience any emotions just because he has been with the same woman for 15 years, that’s his problem. As far as I am concerned, maybe I’m just more romantic, or softer, but I thought it would be normal to get emotional in tying the knot with the woman of your life in front of so many people; an important, unforgettable moment. People usually live that day as a very special day. Rafa does not hold back expressing his emotions when he wins an important point on court – over and above his “vamos”, his jumps and his fist pumps – if his wedding day was a routine experience for him, but just the formalization of his union by exchanging rings with his fiancée… well, I am sorry for him. I don’t know what Xisca thinks about it. Judging from Rafa’s response, there should be no enthusiasm or emotion capable to upset his routine, when getting married after having been with the same woman for 15 years. He was even surprised when someone, like myself, asked him about possible emotions on his wedding day. I am stunned. I don’t want to make a big deal out of it, but I feel I should point this out because of the way he treated me.
To put it simply, I could not believe that even after dating the same woman for 15 years, the day before the wedding could be completely routine, without any emotional involvement. This is why I asked the question, without thinking it could be misinterpreted, or considered a joke, even less labeled as ‘bullshit’.
Perhaps Rafa was nervous because he had just lost a match (6-2, 6-4 without ever getting a break point) against an opponent he had always defeated before, Alexander Zverev. This could partially justify his behaviour, but he had not given any signs of nerves during the previous questions. I have always considered him an intelligent person. But sometimes even intelligent people make mistakes or say silly things. But they apologise afterwards. I hope Rafa is going to do it, sooner or later. If he won’t, never mind. But he will not make a very good impression to me or to all my colleagues, including the Spanish reporters from Puntodebreak and Eurosport who came to talk to me immediately after the incident.
I want to stress once again that my curiosity about how he may have reacted to an important moment in his life that I didn’t believe could be seen as a mere formality, was entirely innocent. He didn’t understand it, I hope someone will explain him, even if this for sure will not be an important moment in his life. Even if, in some way, we have been knowing and seeing each other for 15 years.
Article originally published in Italian on ubitennis.com
NOTE TO OUR READERS – In reference to the exchange occurred between myself and Rafael Nadal during the press conference following his first match, I have had a clarifying meeting after his win against Medvedev. We both have acknowledged the reasons that led to the misunderstanding and the subsequent exchange of unpleasant words, mainly due to our imperfect knowledge of the English language. This is it. We’ll turn the page, for everyone’s satisfaction, and Nadal and I maintain the mutual respect that has always been a cornerstone of our relationship. Our readers are naturally free to form their own opinion on this event, but at this stage any further comment would appear unnecessary. Thank you for your attention. (Ubaldo Scanagatta)
Modern Tennis: Evolution Of A Game
It’s a well-known fact that every single thing goes into renovation and re-shaping as we move on, sports are, certainly, included in this category that undergoes usually, from time to time, new adjustments and modifications that are probably attributed to two main reasons; to cope with the contemporary trend, particularly, among young people and other commercial aspects like promoting it to a broader population of fans. Tennis is one of a few sports that has retained most of its rules and traditions until the moment, however, introducing some little changes in the game could serve the sport better, make it more interesting for people got already bored of it, even more appealing for new audience, and most importantly more optimum and safer for the players.
We will get through some of the new technological and technical innovations that have been introduced into the Next Generation ATP Finals over the three editions of the tournament and expose its pros and cons.
The format of the tournament, since its emerging in 2017, has been quite different with the objective of attracting more fans by making matches quicker and have more exciting moments in less amount of time.
The most fundamental part of the new format has been the number of games per set, which became four games a set instead of 6 with a Tie-Break at 3-All, and No-Ad scoring. The shorter set has been compensated for with the matches being best-of-five sets so that a player needs to win 12 games to win a match. The introduction of such a new format has obviously increased the intensity of the matches by speeding up the pace of every rally, so that after every changeover you will definitely not witness more than 14 points thanks to the No-Ad scoring role, which means also more break points.
The No-Ad scoring role, similar to that in doubles competition in the standards ATP tour, means that when it’s tied at deuce (40-All), the next point is considered the deciding point and regarding serving either in the deuce or advantage courts, in 2018 edition it was the receiver’s choice, while in 2019 it’s up to the server player.
I think that these modifications on the traditional format have brought much dynamics and speed, as you can see that everything is pretty quick that needs the players to exert little physical efforts on each point which eventually helps them comply much easier to the shot clock and most probably that would impress a lots of fans amongst young ones, and would be appreciated as well by most people having a real busy schedule.
However, players have to adapt to this new format in terms of mental alertness and tactics, because everything is going very fast and if one player lost his concentration for a moment or two on his service game, with the No-Ad scoring rule, that could cost him the set which would ruin his whole match even with considering that it’s a best-of-five sets match.
The innovations, at the Next Generation ATP Finals, haven’t been only technical but also included new cutting-edge technological services that would not only help ease the calls on points but also give the players and their chosen coaches reliable data and physical measures about their own performance and workload after each match that would assist them on evaluating their plans and training strategies.
The usage of the very innovative Live Electronic Line Calling system has so many remarkable merits, as it really helps eliminating human’s errors, yet not absolutely eliminating errors as sometimes the machine doesn’t work in very rare cases, that’s why in close callings players have the right to watch a video review to get assured of the call. In addition, this contributes a lot to shorten the average time taken between points as the calls are usually clear and need no more evaluation from the umpire or the players. Another major advantage for such system installation is that now players don’t have to challenge calls they are having doubts over, for instance a player could’ve used all their challenges and they can no longer challenge the call despite having the call wrong, that would never be encountered with this innovative system.
The third edition of the Next Generation ATP Finals also features an unprecedented technology available on ATP, in which players are allowed to use wearable devices that would measure velocity and direction, acceleration and force, rotation, body orientation, and will quantify internal load (through heart rate). The data collected would be available after matches for the players and their coaches for further assessing the key elements of their game.
All these previous innovations and rule modifications cannot be seen, generally, to be compromising the core of the traditions of tennis, however, there is a one rule introduced at the Next Gen ATP Finals that shows a lot of controversy over if it’s affecting the core of the game or not, it’s the In-Match Player Coaching via head-sets. According to this rule, a player can communicate with his coach during a match at certain points, similar to what’s happening in the WTA, however the coaches aren’t permitted to come on court.
Some top players have had their say about that topic. While some backed the very new feature, others thought it doesn’t belong to the world of tennis.
“I’m not all for it, I find it kind of cool that in tennis, you know, you’re sort of on your own out there. Not everybody has the same amount of resources for coaching, as well. So I’m not sure if it’s that beneficial.” Argued 20-time Grand Slam Champion Roger Federer.
Federer’s long term rival Novak Djokovic had another thought about the In-Match Coaching, thinking that tennis should be like most of the other sports in this aspect of the game.
“When the WTA introduced on-court coaching, many ATP players were not really positive about it. I thought it was a good move for the sport. I mean, we’re probably one of the only, maybe [the] only global sport that doesn’t use coaching during the play. Even golf, individual sport, you have caddies that you communicate with throughout the entire course.” Said Djokovic.
One way of thinking is that tennis is based on playing individually in the first place, of course, players do put strategies and tactics with their coaching teams but when they get to the court, it’s all theirs, not only physically but also mentally, that’s why some players hire psychotherapist. On the other hand, some players might have some mental weaknesses and such an opportunity could deal with this problem during the match, and at the same time the other player would be offered the same opportunity so it’s fair after all.
I think people should keep watching closely this controversial very new rule being introduced to the world of tennis at the editions of the Next Gen ATP Finals and its effect on the players, then they can conclude whether it would affect the game in a positive or negative manner.
To conclude, every single sport has to keep up to date with the advancements taking place and the common tends, yet never to change its roots that it’s already been built upon. With most of the innovations that have been introduced to the Next Gen tournament, I think there is a great combination between cutting-edge technology represented on facilitate officiating and giving useful information for the players about their game, and optimizing some rules that wouldn’t necessarily compromise the origin of tennis.
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.”
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