Break Out The Sunglasses, Sascha’s Future Keeps Getting Brighter

WASHINGTON, August 14, 2017 (by Michael Dickens)

Sascha Zverev‘s future is so bright, it’s time to break out the sunglasses. The 20-year-old German’s incredible year got a little more incredible with his second consecutive title victory of the season and fifth overall, following his 6-3, 6-4 mastery over Roger Federer in the ATP Masters 1000 Rogers Cup in Montréal, Quebec, on Sunday.

Building upon his impressive summer hard-court run that started with last week’s ATP 500 title win at the Citi Open in Washington, D.C., and continuing north of the border in Canada, the ATP #NextGen star strung together a strong groundstroke attack to complement his big first serve. Zverev fired six aces, placed 69 percent of his first serves in play, won 33 of 41 (80%) first-serve points and hit 20 winners. He saved all three break points that Federer could muster against him and broke his fallen opponent twice, once in each set.

Throughout, Federer seemed just a little bit off his game, whether it was his first serve missing its mark (just 51% accurate) or how he approached his shotmaking decisions (hitting just eight winners against 18 unforced errors). It’s something which ESPN analyst Patrick McEnroe picked up on and it became a conversation topic between him and his broadcast partner, Chris Fowler, that dominated much of the second set.

“It didn’t look like he was playing his points as physically as could be,” said McEnroe, when Zverev broke Federer to go ahead 4-3 in the final set. “Something’s definitely wrong. He’s not putting any weight on his legs.”

During the change over, ESPN did a split-screen, side-by-side comparison of Federer, showing him serving early in the match and, again, in the seventh game of the final set. Even to me, the difference in his serving motion was clearly evident in looking at the slow-motion video.

Whether it was something wrong with his legs or, perhaps, in his right shoulder, it didn’t look good for Federer as the match reached the one-hour mark and another championship for Zverev came into focus.

Soon, it was over. Zverev served out the match – he won the final game at love – for his 10th consecutive victory and second Masters 1000 crown of this year. He became the first German since Boris Becker in 1992 to win five tournaments in a single season, and his fifth tour title this year tied him with Federer, whose 2017 achievements include Grand Slam triumphs at the Australian Open and Wimbledon. It was the 36-year-old Federer’s first loss after stringing together an impressive 16 consecutive victories, and for Zverev, it meant avenging his defeat to the Swiss ace in the final of the Gerry Weber Open at Halle back in June. Their career head-to-head record is now even at 2-all.

Looking ahead, one hates to raise the idea that something’s wrong with Federer as the Cincinnati Masters unfolds this week. Suddenly, things don’t look so good for the World No. 3, who is seeded second at the Western & Southern Open.

Still, ever the class act he is, Federer gave Zverev due props following the conclusion of their 68-minute final, first when they warmly shook hands and embraced at the net, then during an on-court interview. He motioned to Sascha, saying “Maybe, some day, you can tell me what it’s like to win in Montréal.” Always gracious in defeat.

Then, it was Zverev’s turn to praise his idol. “It worked out well today for me,” he said. “I know (Roger) started to move a little bit slower, but he’s still playing some amazing tennis. I want to compliment Roger on an incredible season. I hope there’s many more to come.”

“I’m sorry you didn’t win Montreal, but I’m hopeful that some day you will.” The TV cameras cut to Federer, who broke into a big grin like only he can after he’s lost an important final.

Many thought Federer would beat Zverev, which would have put him within 10 points of Rafael Nadal in the race for No. 1. However, give Zverev due credit. He came to play, he came to win. He seized the moment against Federer by serving big and winning a lot of big points. And, now he’s a solid No. 7 in the world rankings.

Looking ahead to the U.S. Open, which starts in two weeks, McEnroe said near the conclusion of ESPN’s broadcast that he believes Zverev’s chances of success are excellent. “He can compete at a major. He’s playing confident. There’s no reason he can’t make a big run.”

Indeed, Zverev is playing with a level of confidence that’s well beyond his years. If the past two weeks have been any indication – and I think they are – he seems to have a good head on his shoulders and, just as important, a good team supporting him – father, Alexander Sr., and recent addition Juan Carlos Ferrero are his coaches.

“I know I’m playing well,” the junior Zverev said after his win Sunday, “but there are others who are playing well, too. Let’s see how far I can go.”

About the author

Michael Dickens is a Washington, D.C.-area freelance journalist who writes and blogs about tennis.