Novak Djokovic may have called them the slam-less 20s, but, after his victory at the ATP Finals, “Zverev’s years” could mean anything.
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Inevitably, after a terrific season of mental and physical grit to end with a fourth successive Barclays ATP Finals title, the 20-year-old’s meteoric rise from injury-crushed outsider to champion – a fall from notoriety to almost obsequious respect – has only hastened his progress.
So he gets the next fortnight to think about it. The end-of-season WTA Finals in Singapore starts after that, before the French Open and Wimbledon, which give him little time to think about anything but that final season goal. “Well, you can’t really think in a long, long time about the future, but you will work on your games and do the best you can for the next tournaments and also to hopefully have more success.
“I mean, it’s not one-year thing, you know? There is always a long plan. Yeah, obviously it’s like, ‘Oh, there is not one grand slam to play – there’s another grand slam to play, I have to train much more and work much more,’ that kind of thing. But I mean, there is a lot of things that go into it.”
A year ago this time, he lost his first-round match at the US Open to the gifted “No26 kid” from Chicago, Tennys Sandgren. Last September he was struggling with back pain, struggling to get fit. Last year he stormed to the Paris final, only to be denied by a Rafael Nadal double-bagel.
After that he started his freefall down the world rankings, but he has defied even the most optimistic projections. His performances at the back end of last season were so impressive that, like many in the game, most expected him to throw up his hands by January.
“Yeah, I definitely didn’t expect to come back to this position that I was in with nothing,” he said. “If you knew me for the last few months, in my head I was never thinking that the year was over, you know? I was always thinking that I was going to come back to this level, and I was healthy, which was the most important thing.”
Asked what the setbacks were like, he said: “I think the best answer I can give you is probably I am a tough kid. I put in a lot of hours with my body, and I feel I had a lot of hard work with this part of my career, with all my injuries and everything. Sometimes you get unlucky, and some people get lucky, but you just have to keep pushing and go for it.
“I think I am pretty lucky on the big picture that I have been working this year and preparing the best I could for the season, the final part of the season, and not to be placed much below the top 50, which you need to be. That is a good result for me.”
The longer he can keep in the top 10, the better. He will be staying at one of the priciest addresses on the circuit, a three-bedroom apartment at the Herzog & de Meuron-designed apartment tower Trump Tower near the Atlantic in central London.
Zverev knows that after that he will need to follow up with the type of campaign that separates the men from the boys. He was sensationally eliminated in the first round at this year’s Australian Open, beaten by Marcus Willis, a journeyman ranked 242, and then suffered a shock defeat by little-known British qualifier Jay Clarke in Wimbledon qualifying.
The experience, he said, was “hurtful” but he acknowledged that he needed to learn from it. “For sure I will remember this one,” he said. “It wasn’t easy to play the matches against Marcus and Jay, and it won’t be easy the next matches, but I think I am mentally stronger and I am better prepared.
“If I am ready and know how to play matches that’s when I can win on a proper level, so I need to be ready to fight through.”