Welcome to Tennis Elbow, the column that looks back on the week that was in the world of tennis. This week, Charles Blouin-Gascon recaps the latest in Nick Kyrgios and Sacha Zverev land.
We were greeted to men’s tennis’s most recent innovation over the weekend, the ATP Cup.
It works something like the Davis Cup meets the Laver Cup, what with the rowdy and partisan crowds, the team competition and, like, yeah that’s about it.
Serbia emerged victorious from the 2020 ATP Cup with a resounding win over Spain after Novak Djokovic overcame Rafael Nadal to force a deciding doubles match and to then close things out. For ATP Cup organizers, this was just about a dream scenario.
Congratulations, ?? #TeamSerbia!@DjokerNole @Dutzee @troicki_viktor @nenadzim #ATPCup pic.twitter.com/RTqfxy48To
— ATP Tour (@atptour) January 12, 2020
But we’re not here to talk about the dream scenario, or Serbia’s victory.
The ATP Cup was also yet another reminder of the divide between the very best players in the world and those next in line.
You might have seen this come up during the ATP Cup, but it bears repeating here in this space.
Sascha Zverev this week at #ATPCup:
L: 6-4, 6-7(3), 6-2 to de Minaur (14 double faults)
L: 1-6, 4-6 to Tsitsipas (10 double faults)
L: 2-6, 2-6 to Shapovalov (7 double faults)
The one-time crown prince of the Next Gen got worse with every match.
— Ben Rothenberg (@BenRothenberg) January 7, 2020
You see, the young Alexander Zverev also competed in the ATP Cup for Germany—though saying he competed might be overselling things. In a mere three matches, he managed no fewer than 31 (!!!) double faults on his serve; that he lost all three matches isn’t surprising, it’s the fact that he managed to even win one set.
Things were so bad for the young German that Belinda Bencic took to internet and Instagram and, sort of tongue-in-cheek but also not completely, tagged the 22-year-old Zverev to match her donation to the Australian bushfires relief for each double fault she hits. The joke, of course, being that if Zverev keeps his current level of play this will make for one hell of a donation, right?
(?@TennisTV ) pic.twitter.com/8f15QvrsSb
— doublefault28 (@doublefault28) January 5, 2020
It’s been quite the fall from grace from the one-time prince of the Next Gen, for this young man who was supposed to and being hailed as the one who would usurp the old dinosaurs before long. Zverev’s play and, especially, confidence have eroded so much that in 2020 the German seems much closer to falling out of the Top 50 than he does of, say, winning Roland-Garros.
If confidence is Zverev’s problem, it’s certainly not Nick Kyrgios’s—but that doesn’t mean everything is rosy for the Australian. The 24-year-old also had his moment under the sun during the ATP Cup when his countrymen took on Spain in the semifinals and… well, Kyrgios mostly fell flat on his face.
After having dispatched Stefanos Tsitsipas in the group stage of the event in what was a truly special battle, Kyrgios then dominated Cameron Norrie before being run over the court by Spain’s Robert Bautista Augut.
As he’s typically done throughout his career, Kyrgios giveth and Kyrgios taketh. The Bautista Augut match was another opportunity for the 24-year-old to step up and meet the moment—and yet another instance of him not doing so.
At 24, Kyrgios has just about become the player he’ll always be, an immensely talented pro who doesn’t always want to be out there competing. We’re firmly in the pro-Kyrgios camp here, but maybe it’s time we finally start treating the No. 29-ranked player on tour just like we do, say, the 34th-ranked Dusan Lajovic. We can talk about him but, like, we can also not talk about him… You know?
Tennis is a punishing and cruel sport in that it always demands more out of its competitors: it pits two lonely men or women and demands that they fight until the very last of their energy is spent. Once a winner and a loser have been crowned, it demands that the former does it all again tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow and every day until they either win the entire tournament or just loses to another competitor. As for the latter, it ships him or her the next week to an entirely different city in a different country in a different part of the world and asks that they then do it all over again.
Not everyone manages to step up every time they step on the court and those who don’t shouldn’t be shamed for it. Tennis is a gruelling, lonely and relentless pursuit and, frankly, we don’t understand how they do it.
We know we wouldn’t last a week in the lives of a tennis pro.
Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG