A window of opportunity presented itself to Alexander Zverev ahead of the 2022 Australian Open. If the German were to emerge victorious at Melbourne Park, with Novak Djokovic otherwise engaged, then a standing as world No.1 was his for the taking.
Through the first three rounds of the year’s first Grand Slam, all appeared to be going to plan as nine sets were collected with the minimum of fuss. Denis Shapovalov was, however, to prove a step too far and dreams were dashed before ever truly forming.
Attention is now set to turn towards Roland-Garros and the French Open in May, with Zverev priced at 14/1 in Betfair tennis odds to emerge victorious in Paris. He knows how to get over the line at a big event, as a two-time Tour Finals winner, but has tended to fluff his lines when the grandest of prizes are up for grabs.
— ATP Tour (@atptour) November 22, 2021
His record in majors makes for impressive reading, with semi-finals reached in Australia and France while pushing Dominic Thiem close across five sets in the 2020 US Open final, but there are obvious holes to be picked.
Zverev crumbled from two sets up to finish as runner-up in the aforementioned showdown at Flushing Meadows and appears to have a personal mental block that is proving difficult to break down. When the going gets tough, he is yet to get going.
In contrast, the very best in the business have forged their remarkable success around unwavering belief and mindsets that allow them to believe that they are never beaten – just look at Rafa Nadal’s record-setting triumph Down Under when battling back against the odds to overcome Daniil Medvedev.
Zverev is yet to master that skillset, and admits as much. He said after coming unstuck in Oz: “There was too much pressure, too much talking of being No.1.” He went to say that expectation “was in my head” and that he buckled under the weight of it.
There will be ample opportunities in which to get things right. Part of the problem, though, is that Nadal, Djokovic and some of the very best to ever do it are not going anywhere.
Zverev says that for him, “a Grand Slam is the only goal missing”, but also acknowledges that crossing that line “won’t be easy”. It may well prove impossible unless he finds a way of righting the wrongs that continue to hold him back.
— Alexander Zverev (@AlexZverev) April 14, 2021
Sporting history – particularly when it comes to individual events such as tennis and golf – is littered with tales of those who stood on the brink of greatness but never quite achieved it. With no team-mates to lean on for support, the spotlights of center stage can shine too brightly for some.
Zverev still has plenty of time in which to buck that trend. He embodies what an elite sportsperson is all about, with natural ability blended with dedication to a craft that sees him striving for continuous improvement. Some things, though, cannot be taught and he is going to have to master the art of thriving under pressure away from a classroom or the training court.