Welcome to Tennis Elbow, the column that looks back on the week that was in the world of tennis. This week, Charles Blouin-Gascon discusses Alexander Zverev’s progression over the past few months.
If you were one of those who had gone all in on the kid, might it now be time to sell high?
We feel a little silly even asking and wondering this but, like, should you look to board off the Alexander Zverev hype train while it’s not too expensive to do so because you feel like the supposed anointed one might now be a tad overrated?
Well, let’s break it down here because there are actually two different aspects in the above rhetorical question, and let’s tackle each separately.
There’s really no way to argue that Sascha is overrated without coming off sounding a little bit like you’re just looking for something wrong. At still just 20 years old, the German is the No. 4 player in the world with a career high of No. 3. He’s the youngest player in the Top 30 on the men’s side. He has six career titles to his name, with about $8 million in total prize money since he turned pro in 2013. He’s 13-5 so far in 2018, which is actually a higher win percentage than his career mark of around 63%.
And yet, there’s the first part of this question. You remember that Zverev was hailed as the 2015 Newcomer of the Year; he was the chosen one, the next big thing and while this is certainly not a guarantee of success by any means, you were promised excellence and you haven’t quite gotten it.
For all the prowesses he’s accomplished on tennis courts since turning pro, Zverev has yet to bring his hype train to the biggest stages of the sport. The man has yet to do better than a fourth round berth at last year’s Wimbledon at a Grand Slam, sporting only a 14-11 career record at the four Grand Slam events. Compared to the career mark at Grand Slams from the top players of the past few years, Zverev is lacking here.
In other words, Zverev sure has been excellent…except at the four majors.
Which is sort of maybe the point?
On the one hand, our current view of players has been a bit skewed because we’ve lived, and we don’t know if you’ve heard this one before because this is something definitely no one has ever mentioned, but yes we’ve lived in through the Golden Age of tennis over the past 15 years.
With the presence and constant domination of Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray, we’ve all been spoiled since about 2005. Which is to say that we’ve forgotten about Marat Safin, Lleyton Hewitt, Juan-Carlos Ferrero, Andy Roddick, or countless others, players who were great, then excellent for a short amount of time before going back to being just fine.
Because of this Golden Age, we’ve forgotten a bit that we shouldn’t expect players to arrive on the ATP World Tour fully formed and that they should be allowed to grow into their role.
In Zverev’s case, that should translate into us appreciating all that he has already done. The rest will come when it does, and even if it doesn’t well at least we’ll have had all this, which is already plenty.
On the other hand, it would be silly to also blindly overlook that the outlook of men’s tennis has changed in 2018, after so many years with the Big Four. Because men’s tennis is different, and our views of players have changed over time. The best players are supposed to play like it every time they step on the courts, and that goes for Zverev as his standing as one of the supposedly best players on the ATP. That they are young gives you an excuse for a disappointing result, but not a reason.
The German might excel as much as he wants at the Masters 1000 events, but this isn’t enough anymore. Tennis fans ask for more from their legends; they need Grand Slam titles, multiple of them, and immortality. Merely great doesn’t cut it anymore.
We were promised the next great ruler of the sport in Zverev. It’s time for him to start acting like it on the biggest stage of the sport.
At least, that’s how some people think.
Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG