STARNBERG, January 3, 2019
Alexander Zverev ended 2018 on a high and his ATP Finals victory suggested that the new generation might just be able to vanquish the old guard in 2019. The 21-year-old went into the final of the season-ending tournament as a huge underdog. He was up against the supremely dominant world number one Novak Djokovic, but he overcame the odds in style to record a stunning 6-4, 6-3 victory. It felt like a symbolic changing of the guard after the older generation dominated the Grand Slams in 2017 and 2018, but Zverev is by no means guaranteed to emerge as the dominant force in men’s tennis next year.
Rewind 12 months and Grigor Dimitrov was the golden boy of the sport after romping to victory in the ATP Finals. He was tipped to break the stranglehold Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal enjoyed on the men’s game this year, but things have not quite gone to plan. He has not won a single title since that victory and he has fallen to 19th in the world, with just three victories over top 20 players all year. Meanwhile, Federer won the Australian Open, Nadal seized the French Open and Djokovic bounced back from injury to seize Wimbledon and the US Open, completing another year of dominance from the ageing titans.
Djokovic favourite to win Australian Open
If you browse reviews of the best sportsbook around and find odds for the Australian Open, the next Grand Slam, you will see that Djokovic is the heavy favourite to win it. Federer is second in the betting, followed by Nadal, and then Zverev is all the way out at 10/1. Nick Kyrgios is 30/1, Dominic Thiem is 33/1 and Borna Coric is 50/1, showing that the younger generation is not highly rated. The same is true at the French Open, where Nadal is the overwhelming favourite and Djokovic is second.
Yet Alexander Zverev could well be the man to usher in a brave new era for the sport. Federer is now 37, while Andy Murray remains crocked and Stan Wawrinka’s career is winding down, so the opportunity exists for someone to fill the void and the exciting young German is best placed to grab it. He remained in the top five of the world rankings throughout 2018 and he has already claimed three Masters titles. Nadal and Djokovic have hailed him as the future of the men’s game, and he just needs to deliver on his potential.
Dimitrov with Lendl in his corner
Dimitrov was a child prodigy tipped to become the next big thing in tennis, but comparisons with Federer hampered his progress and he has struggled to thrive under that pressure. Zverev can avoid a similar fate by developing greater mental fortitude and remaining more focused on court. In his fledgling career he has lost five-set matches against players he should have beaten at Grand Slams, and he needs to simply maintain his intensity over longer periods of time. If he can achieve consistency from the first to the last set, Zverev can go on to the next level in 2019.
He now has the legendary Ivan Lendl in his court, and that should help. It was Lendl that gave Murray the final push to become a great player, and he should install more discipline and focus in Zverev. He has never been past the quarter-final stage of a Grand Slam, which is embarrassing for someone as talented as he is. It is time for him to regularly take the fight to Djokovic, Nadal and Federer in the latter stages of big tournaments and spark confidence among fellow youngsters that dream of rising to the summit of the men’s game. This could be a career defining year for Zverev and it will be fascinating to see how in unfolds.