TURIN, Italy — It was concerning the match at hand on Sunday as Alexander Zverev confidently rumbled to his second profession title on the ATP Finals with a 6-4, 6-4 victory over Daniil Medvedev.
Zverev, ripping unreturnable serves and spectacular swing volleys, didn’t face a break level towards an exceedingly proficient opponent who had crushed him 5 instances in a row and stolen fairly a little bit of his thunder in latest seasons as essentially the most profitable man of their age group.
But Sunday was additionally concerning the matches and the season to return, which was why Zverev, who received the trophy in 2018, didn’t wait lengthy in his post-victory interview to reference 2022 with a slight smile on his stubbled face.
No man has received the ATP Finals twice who has not risen to No. 1 within the rankings and received a number of Grand Slam singles titles.
For the second, Zverev, 24, has but to achieve the highest spot and but to win one of many 4 main titles that stay tennis’ litmus checks of greatness.
Will he be an unlucky exception? It is tough to imagine so along with his up-to-date talent set.
“I kind of have succeeded on every single level, and there’s one thing missing,” he mentioned, referring to a Grand Slam title. “I hope I can do that next year.”
He has distinctive energy and attain and, like Medvedev, outstanding mobility at 6-foot-6. He has the most effective first serves and backhands on the planet and improved court docket positioning and a shored-up forehand that was usually a decisive punch down the stretch in Turin as he knocked out the world No. 1 Novak Djokovic in a three-set semifinal after which the second-ranked Medvedev in a match a lot shorter in size and thrills.
“I feel like it’s inevitable Zverev is going to win a major,” mentioned Patrick McEnroe, the ESPN analyst and former U.S. Davis Cup captain. “I’ve been saying for a couple years that he’s been knocking on the door. Now he’s banging on it.”
He was already pounding loudly in 2020 on the U.S. Open, the place he misplaced in a nervy, five-set last to Dominic Thiem during which Zverev misplaced a two-set lead and each gamers appeared to shrink from the prospect of breaking via.
But although Zverev didn’t attain a Grand Slam last in 2021, this has been a reaffirming yr with six singles titles, together with the Olympic gold medal in Tokyo after stopping Djokovic alongside the way in which. Zverev, lengthy thought-about smooth when it mattered most, appears extra clearheaded below duress and higher at making tactical shifts and good selections on the fly.
“He’s been a great player for a long time,” mentioned Mischa Zverev, his brother, who has been teaching him of their father Alexander’s absence from the tour. “Sascha has all the shots, that big serve and big backhand and is moving well. But I think this week he really played intelligent tennis and was truly an all-rounder. I even saw him hit a backhand slice down the line and come to net to finish off the volley. He stepped it up when he needed to and was very patient when necessary. He mixed up his serve very well and mixed up the pace of his shots very well.”
After complaining of weariness and dropping rapidly to Medvedev within the semifinals of the Paris Masters indoors earlier this month, Zverev got here again at him with conviction in Turin, dropping within the round-robin in a third-set tiebreaker after holding a match level after which elevating the bar on Sunday, studying the movement of play, together with Medvedev’s more and more determined drop pictures.
“It was almost like he used all his senses to play today,” Mischa Zverev mentioned of his brother. “As much as seeing the ball and feeling it when it touches the racket, he was literally trying to think a few steps ahead, trying to listen to the crowd and the way the opponent hits the ball, soaking up all the information he could get and using it to his advantage.”
It was a formidable efficiency however Zverev, regardless of his big-bang recreation and capability to allure in three languages, stays a divisive determine who’s tough for a lot of spectators to totally embrace due to the continuing tour investigation into his alleged bodily violence towards a former girlfriend, Olya Sharypova. Other sports activities might need suspended him till the decision of such an investigation, however males’s tennis, missing a clear coverage till this yr, has allowed him to maintain taking part in (and maintain successful).
He has denied the allegations of abuse, made by Sharypova in media interviews, and mentioned that he welcomes the inquiry so he can clear his identify. He has mentioned he has been capable of play so nicely in 2021 as a result of he is aware of the reality and is assured that he’ll ultimately be vindicated. But his efficiency has been a show of compartmentalization, absolutely not as simple as Zverev has made it look.
“I’m his brother, so I’ve always had faith and belief in him from the day he was born,” mentioned Mischa Zverev, who’s 10 years older and preceded him on tour. “But yes, to win six tournaments, two Masters finals and Olympic gold, that’s a great year for anybody and especially with the things that were going on off the court, it’s more so impressive.”
But there’s a price, each in misplaced sponsorship and misplaced assist.
“I think it’s affected him personally a lot more than he’s let on,” McEnroe mentioned. “These allegations hanging over him are very uncomfortable, and we can only hope it works out for everybody, including the young woman in this situation. But the larger issue for tennis if I put on my ESPN hat and former U.S.T.A. hat is that, let’s be honest, these young guys at the moment are not moving the needle for tennis the same way the older guys have. They are not selling tickets the first week of the U.S. Open the same way that Nadal, Federer and Djokovic have been doing.”
There is an achievement hole, in fact. Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer and Djokovic have been dueling for 15 years and have received 20 Grand Slam singles titles apiece. But there’s additionally an attraction hole with Zverev’s off-court points and with Stefanos Tsitsipas, pretty or unfairly, having to fend off accusations of gamesmanship this summer season due to his prolonged off-court breaks throughout matches and taking criticism after saying he didn’t see a want for somebody his age to get a Covid-19 vaccine, although he later mentioned he deliberate to get the shot.
For now, Medvedev appears essentially the most broadly interesting of the lead pack: an unorthodox, sometimes contortionist participant and artistic conversationalist who engages with and generally confronts a crowd (as he did once more in Turin) however usually with a twinkle in his eye.
He senses the priority about the way forward for males’s tennis however is aware of his historical past. There had been doomsayers when Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe retired, doomsayers when Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi retired, however alongside got here new champions and rivalries that gathered gravitas.
“Tennis is a great sport, so I don’t see why our generation would miss on something,” Medvedev mentioned. “Of course, maybe we don’t do 20 Grand Slams, yet nobody did before Roger, Rafa and Novak, so they were also worse than them if we can say like this. It’s definitely not going to be a shame.”
For now, Medvedev, 25, has one main title, which got here at this yr’s U.S. Open the place he stopped Djokovic’s Grand Slam try within the last. For now, Zverev has none and has but to defeat a top-10 participant in a Grand Slam event, however as he and his brother head to the Maldives for a break after a confidence-building season, Zverev is already flashing forward to 2022.
“My gut tells me and not even my gut, my brain, my eyes, my senses tell me he has the talent and has everything needed to win a Grand Slam,” Mischa Zverev mentioned. “I believe it will happen soon, but that it will never happen is also a possibility. I can’t predict the future, but I always believed he could be No. 1 and will win Grand Slams, and I still believe that.”