Alexander “Sascha” Zverev always comes into view all arms and legs. He’s lanky and seems not to have grown into his body quite yet. At 6”6’ and supposedly close to 200 pounds, he’s like an unfinished sculpture with some of the clay set aside for later.
We first got a glimpse of Germany’s “Next Boris” in June of 2015 at the Gerry Weber Open, the ATP 500 series grass court event in Halle, Westphalia, Germany. In a “Match of Giants”, Ivo Karlovic, a 6”11’ Croatian with a serve that defies description was on the other side of the net. Karlovic eventually came out a winner over his opponent, who had turned 18 on April 20th, 6-7, 6-3, 6-3 in the second round. The youngster finished that tournament ranked No. 76 and he’s never looked back.
Sashaying into Roland Garros, six years later he is the No. 6 ranked player in the world and the tournament’s No. 6 seed. Thus far, Zverev has won 15 tournaments in his career. Six of the triumphs – Geneva ’19, Madrid ’21 and ’18, Munich ’18 and ’17 and Rome ’18 – have been on Terre Battue.
This is his seventh appearance in Paris. His best results – quarterfinal appearances – took place in 2019 when Novak Djokovic of Serbia stopped him 7-5, 6-2, 6-2 and a year earlier when Dominic Thiem of Austria, was 6-4, 6-2, 6-1 better than the German.
Zverev was born in Hamburg but currently resides in Monte Carlo, Monaco. In fact, prior to coming to Paris on May 25th (Tuesday), he had been at home practicing but, being a Formula 1 fan, took time to attend the Monaco Grand Prix on Sunday (May 23rd).
Mikhail “Mischa” Zverev is Sascha’s older brother. He will be 34 on August 22nd. He reached a career high No. 25 ranking in July of 2017. Since then, he has spent more time dealing with injuries than he has playing and his ranking has now plummeted to No. 219.
Ordinarily, Mischa would be by his brother’s side in Paris but tournament protocol has restricted a player’s team size. So, he and Sascha are using FaceTime to stay in touch. The situation brought about some interesting credential juggling as Mischa told Daniel Dormann, who met the younger Zverev when he was 15 and later founded “Team Zverev”, a support group for the younger Zverev.
Players were allowed to “credential” only two team members. In Zverev’s case, Alexander Zverev, Sr. his father and coach and Hugo Gavril, who has been his physio for five years, were the choices. But the virus restrictions left him one man short. So, Marcelo Mello, a close friend, came to the rescue. The Brazilian doubles specialist, who won the Roland Garros Doubles with Ivan Dodig of Croatia in 2015, donated one of his two credentials to Mikhail Ledovskikh of Russia so Zverev’s hitting partner could actually do what he was hired to do – warm up with him.
The Zverevs are family, but they are more than father, brother and brother close. They are the Zverevs so naturally Mischa is unhappy that he will not be courtside when Sascha plays. Last year, Sascha was surprised in the Round of 16 by Jannik Sinner of Italy 6-3, 6-3, 4-6, 6-3.
This time out things will be different according to his older brother. Mischa admitted that he can’t say exactly where Sascha is at the moment with his tennis, but in the past, if he played preparatory tournaments well, he played the Grand Slams badly and vice versa. He went on to explain that Sascha is a surprise bag. “You never know what you will get…” This unpredictability is what makes his tennis so interesting.
Mischa added that the draw isn’t quite as easy as it seems. He pointed out that it’s difficult to make adjustments when you have opponents with lower ranking positions in the first round and then an opponent from the Top 30 in the third round.
Zverev’s first round match against Oscar Otte, a 27-year-old German qualifier from Cologne, was, indeed, “a surprise bag”. Sascha finally escaped 3-6, 3-6, 6-2, 6-2, 6-0. Commenting after the match about being 7-0 when playing five set matches at Roland Garros, he offered, “I know I can go the distance. I don’t always need to, but when I do, I feel comfortable.”
He added, “Me and Dominic (Thiem of Austria) practiced yesterday and we had an incredible practice. The way we were playing, the level was incredibly high and he lost today (to Pablo Andújar of Spain, 4-6, 5-7, 6-3, 6-4, 6-4)…Matches and practices are still different.”
Looking ahead, family often knows best and Mischa is very clear about what he thinks. He believes that Sascha can make it to the finals…and what happens then nobody can say.
(In a relatively disconnected aside, on March 11th, his former girlfriend, Brenda Patea announced, from Berlin, on her Instagram account – “We were blessed with the arrival of Mayla”. Zverev, who was playing and winning the Acapulco tournament at the time, claims that while Patea is planning to raise their daughter on her own that they still have an amicable relationship “and I will live up to my responsibility as a father…”)
Title photo by Peter Staples