Alexander Zverev poised to break through to his first grand slam this year

ROME, ITALY - MAY 16: Alexander Zverev of Germany in action against Matteo Berrettini of Italy during day four of the Internazionali BNL d'Italia 2018 tennis at Foro Italico on May 16, 2018 in Rome, Italy. (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
ROME, ITALY - MAY 16: Alexander Zverev of Germany in action against Matteo Berrettini of Italy during day four of the Internazionali BNL d'Italia 2018 tennis at Foro Italico on May 16, 2018 in Rome, Italy. (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images) /

With consecutive titles in Prague and Madrid, ‘Sascha’ Zverev looks in great shape for the French Open. The defending champion of the Rome Masters, Zverev is seeking his fourth Masters 1000 title this week.

In a tough match against Kyle Edmund, 7-5, 7-6 (11), Alexander Zverev is into the quarterfinals at the Rome Masters 1000 tournament, where he is the defending champion.

Zverev has been talked about as the next best thing ever since winning his first ATP title in St. Petersburg in 2016, at the young age of 19. That year he became the youngest to break through the Top 20 (and still is, tied with Hyeon Chung). He followed up the next year with his first two Masters 1000 titles—and beating no less than great tennis legends Novak Djokovic (Rome) and Roger Federer (Montreal)—in the process. Not a bad way to establish your name in the sport. With the win against Djokovic, he broke into the Top 10. He cracked the Top 5 after the U.S. Open, and he reached a career high of world No. 3 last winter, where he currently sits.

Zverev also beat the second best clay court player—dubbed the “prince of clay”—Dominic Thiem, to clinch his third Masters 1000 title in Madrid. His performance all week in Madrid was masterful, without having his serve broken once, with only one break point threat—no one’s done that in 27 years. The 21-year-old is now only one of five currently active players to hold three Masters 1000 titles. The other four? Federer, Nadal, Djokovic, and Murray of course.

But what’s eluded the incredibly gifted German player is a grand slam title. And it’s not just a matter of getting close. Zverev’s best performance in a grand slam has been getting to the fourth round. With the two Masters 1000 titles last year, there was a lot of expectation going into the U.S. Open, but the world No. 3 went out in the second round to Borna Coric, and the loss seemed to affect him for the rest of the year.

And it seemed as if the dismal trend would continue, with the German going out in the third round of the Australian Open, prompting Federer to give him a pep talk about staying positive. In that talk, Federer reminded Zverev that he was still quite young and that the Swiss hadn’t win his great titles until he was older.

Comparing Federer and Zverev is an interesting point. Once the German won in Madrid, a popular tweet went out comparing the Big Four with the young Zverev at his age and the results are telling.

If Zverev wins or even makes the final in Rome this week, he will have been in more Masters finals than Nadal or Federer so far this year (he lost John Isner in Miami). There are signs that the 21-year-old has learned from his mistakes last year: he changed up his game in the Madrid final, coming to the net more, a little more reminiscent of Federer than the baseliner Nadal. With Zverev’s tall frame, employing a net game where his arms can span the breadth of coverage at the net is an excellent tactic. Let’s hope this trend keeps up.

He’s also showing that he’s not intimidated by the legends in the game. He’s already beaten Federer in a Masters final, and he has talked about wanting to beat the two great rivals before they retire. He’s also been working on fitness and strength training. His ability to bounce back after his bruising losses in grand slams last year and in Australia in January demonstrates his drive to break through this year. We have to remind ourselves that he’s only played seven grand slams.

“Retire? No, I don’t want them to retire,” the German answered about if Nadal or Federer should retire in order for the German to break the glass ceiling to titles and No. 1. “I want to try and find the way to be better than them, but it’s something normal.”

Next: Best NFL player from each state

I believe he will break his fourth round curse at the French Open this year. He is already No. 2 behind Federer in the Race to London ATP Finals, which counts points from 2018 only. He is less than 2,000 points behind Nadal, and about 2,500 points under Federer in the overall ATP rankings.

There’s a very good bet that by the time Wimbledon rolls around, the two contenders for the title could very well be Federer or Zverev. But even more likely, Zverev could be a new name carved on the U.S. Open trophy. Or perhaps a new world No. 1?

One thing’s for sure, Zverev is clearly the next tennis star in the ATP. It’s only a matter of time before he collects his first grand slam title to go along with his prodigious talent.