Olympic champion Alexander Zverev has endured some teething problems on his return from a lengthy spell on the sidelines, with a Dubai semi-final his best result since recovering from an ankle injury that needed surgery last June. However, the 26-year-old is right to be introspective about his topsy-turvy form and cited other recent examples that give him cause for future optimism.
Zverev: Still the same old me, gonna do everything I can
“I’ve been on tour for 10 years now, so… it’s kind of been a break, I’ve been injured – not dead – so I’ve not been reborn again or something like that. It’s still the same old me and I still want to win these tournaments, going to do everything I can to do so.” – Zverev on his mindset and mentality
Armed with a 10-10 singles record so far this season, Zverev has some catching up to do from the rest of his contemporaries atop the sport.
That’s to be expected, after recovering from a serious ankle injury – compounded by a bone edema which prolonged his absence last September.
Two months ago, he confirmed that he’s playing without pain once again and while results don’t show it, the German is taking heart from his performances.
Returning to top form isn’t a realistic certainty. In fact, it rarely happens – only Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic have managed that in previous years, less so now.
“I think you see it again and again, after injuries how long people struggle for. You can see it with Dominic [Thiem] a little bit now, been struggling for a while. Andy [Murray] when he first had his hip issues, was struggling a long time. So it takes time, I’m happy I’m on the right path.”
2020 US Open champion Thiem sits world no. 92 in the rankings, while Andy Murray has dropped nine ranking spots to #61 after first-round tournament defeats in Miami and Monte-Carlo were followed by him not playing any event last week.
Zverev has points to defend – 590 of them in fact – after a runner-up finish at last year’s Madrid Open and will benefit from a first-round bye as the event’s 13th seed.
April 26 update: Not playing an opening round match could hamper him against Spain’s Roberto Carballes Baena in R2, after the 30-year-old won 6-4, 6-4 and served imperiously against David Goffin on Wednesday afternoon.
Prevail there, and the German will play either Australian Open quarterfinalist Sebastian Korda  or Diego Schwartzman’s conqueror Hugo Grenier in R3, not a straightforward route to navigate past by any stretch given his inconsistency.
Korda is playing his first event since the run in Melbourne three months ago, while 27-year-old French qualifier Grenier won two qualifiers in three sets on consecutive days to earn his spot – and stun Schwartzman (7-5, 6-4) after going down a break.
Carballes Baena has almost exclusively had success on the clay this term.
He won the Marrakech title earlier this month, recovering from a set down to beat Maxime Cressy and Dan Evans en route to the final and despite an early exit against Marcos Giron in Munich, will back himself to compound Zverev’s woes.
Zverev’s surprising defeats this term
6-0, 6-4 in little over an hour against Japan’s Taro Daniel in Miami R2
Tallon Griekspoor from a set up in Rotterdam
6-2, 7-6 against Marc-Andrea Huesler in Davis Cup play
Michael Mmoh in four sets, Australian Open R2
Australia’s Christopher O’Connell ruined his 26th birthday last week in Munich, so what next?
His ranking will continue to drop if recent form is anything to go by, especially with those French Open points to defend next month. Regardless though, Zverev is grateful to be back in a position to arrest that decline, sooner rather than later.
“I think you start appreciating it a bit more again because when you’re there in this circle everyday, you forget how special it is – playing in-front of 20,000 people, against the biggest names in the sport.”
Picture source: Getty Images, quotes via ATP Tennis Radio podcast