WASHINGTON, May 14, 2018 (by Michael Dickens)
Watching Alexander Zverev beat Dominic Thiem in the Mutua Madrid Open men’s final for his third ATP World Tour Masters 1000 title on Sunday afternoon suggests to me that the cool and confident, 21-year-old German can be a major threat when the French Open starts in two weeks.
Currently ranked No. 3 in the world, Zverev is peaking at the right time on clay. A week after he won the BMW Open by FWU in Munich, the 6-foot-6-inch Zverev put on a very impressive display of aggressive hitting on the Manolo Santana court en route to his 6-4, 6-4 victory over Thiem, who ousted defending champion Rafael Nadal in the quarterfinals on Friday at the Caja Mágica. While Thiem handed Nadal his first loss on clay in 2018 and looked solid in his semifinal win over Kevin Anderson, Zverev played even better. Throughout the tournament, Zverev’s serve was nearly untouchable – there were no breaks of his serve the entire week – and now, he’s won two straight clay-court titles, 18 straight sets, and nine consecutive matches.
“I just feel confident and comfortable right now,” Zverev told the media after his victory over Thiem. “Obviously, I didn’t get broken one time. I don’t think I faced break points in the whole tournament. For me, this is an amazing stat to know in the back of my mind. When serving for a title like this, especially against Dominic, who is one of the best returners, especially on this surface. All in all, I’m just really happy with how I played, that I could win my third Masters.
“So far, it’s been pretty good for me on clay this year. Hopefully, I can continue this kind of streak in Rome. Obviously, the altitude fits me a little bit with my serve, with how I play, with me playing a little bit more aggressive than others. That definitely fits me. But I just feel confident and comfortable right now.”
Zverev’s bright future
By winning Madrid, Zverev became one of five active players – joining Nadal, Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray – to have won three Masters 1000 titles. While the others are all 30 or older – and both Djokovic and Murray are attempting to recover from their respective injuries – Zverev is still very young. It’s pretty scary to think that his best days are still ahead of him.
“It’s a great feeling,” said Zverev after beating Thiem for just the second time in six tries. “Hopefully, this will not be my last, hopefully I can continue to improve, and win a few more.”
While Zverev’s best Grand Slam finish remains reaching the fourth round at last year’s Wimbledon, all indications suggest that he is finally ready to lift his talent to the next level.
After losing to Zverev, Thiem said, “I would say probably now, besides Roger and Rafa, he’s the best. You just need to look at his results.”
Zverev’s title win over Thiem capped a week in which he also beat Evgeny Donskoy, Leonardo Mayer, John Isner and Denis Shapovalov – all in straight sets – to improve his win-loss record to 27-10 this season.
“Zverev is quickly eliminating any perceived soft spots in his game,” wrote Craig O’Shannessy for the ATP World Tour website, in breaking down the metrics of Zverev’s victory over Thiem. “His backhand has always been rock solid, and his forehand stood tall in the Madrid final with nine winners and just eight unforced errors for the match. Thiem, by comparison, had eight winners and 15 unforced errors.”
Next stop Rome
Next, as Zverev defends his Internazionali BNL d’Italia title in Rome this week – where his quarter of the draw includes World No. 6 Juan Martín del Potro and No. 19 Kyle Edmund – one wonders if Roland Garros will be Sascha’s breakout Slam. Maybe. However, Zverev knows that the French Open remains Nadal’s Slam to win or lose.
“Rafa is the favorite, no matter where he plays, on a clay court,” said Zverev after his Madrid victory. “He’s going to be the favorite in Rome; he’s going to be the favorite in Paris. He’s still the guy to beat.”