Zverev Knows He Has To Be Perfect If He’s Going To Beat Djokovic

Alexander Zverev (photo: Darren Carroll/USTA)

NEW YORK/WASHINGTON, September 10, 2021 (by Michael Dickens)

Alexander Zverev is one win away from returning to the US Open men’s final for the second straight year. He’s pragmatic enough to know that winning his next match won’t be any easy feat.

After the No. 4 seed from Germany saved a set point during a first-set tie break in his quarterfinal match against South Africa’s Lloyd Harris on Wednesday afternoon, Zverev took charge and won 7-6 (6), 6-3, 6-4 to advance to Friday evening’s second semifinal against World No. 1 and top seed Novak Djokovic, who owns a 6-3 head-to-head advantage in their previous meetings.

World No. 2 and second seed Daniil Medvedev of Russia plays No. 12 seed Felix Auger-Aliassime of Canada in Friday’s first semifinal.

By winning his first five matches during the New York fortnight, Zverev extended his current winning streak to 16, which includes winning the gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics and lifting the trophy at the Western & Southern Open in Mason, Ohio, an ATP Masters 1000 event.

Djokovic owns a 6-3 head-to-head advantage over Zverev in their previous meetings dating back to 2017. They’ve already meet three times this season. Djokovic won at the ATP Cup in February and in the quarterfinals of the Australian Open. However, Zverev mastered the Serbian 1-6, 6-3, 6-1 during the recent Olympic Tennis Tournament. He looks forward to facing him in New York in front of a packed Arthur Ashe Stadium crowd.

“Against him, you prepare that you have to play the best match that you can,” Zverev said during his press conference following his quarterfinal win over Harris. “You have to be perfect, otherwise you will not win.

“I mean, most of the time you can’t be perfect. That’s why most of the time people lose to him. Against him, you have to win the match yourself. You have to be the one that is dominating the points. You have to do it with very little unforced errors.

“He is the best player in the world. He is very difficult to beat.”

Looking back, Zverev considers his three-set win over Djokovic at the Olympic Games as a breakthrough moment.

I mean, it’s the biggest tournament in the world, Tokyo. It’s the Olympics,” he said. “Winning there against the World No. 1, especially that I was down a set and a break, being kind of out of the match, then coming back, it was different than the other matches. The emotions were different.

“Also securing a medal for Germany was very special to me. This year it seems like nobody can beat him in a big match, nobody can beat him at the Grand Slams. I feel like I was the first player to beat him in a very big match this year.

“That does give you something. To any person it would give you something. As I said before also, I think it was very important for me to back it up in the Finals, back it up in Cincinnati. Hopefully I can continue this streak.”

Last year, Zverev strung together six solid wins during the New York pandemic fortnight – against Kevin Anderson, Brandon Nakashima, Adrian Mannarino, Alejandro Davidovich Fokina, Borna Coric and Pablo Carreño Busta – en route to reaching the US Open final against Austria’s Dominic Thiem. Although Zverev lost to Thiem in five thrilling sets, 2-6, 4-6, 6-4, 6-3, 7-6 (6) – and was driven to tears during the trophy ceremony – he looks forward to getting back into another title match. It won’t be easy this time since he knows he’ll have to knock out Djokovic to get there.

Leading up to tonight’s semifinal, Zverev has been solid if not spectacular in defeating Sam Querrey, Albert Ramos-Vinolas, Jack Sock, Jannik Sinner and Harris, losing just one set. When Zverev was asked how this year’s journey differs from the last time, in which the 2020 US Open was played bereft of spectators, he said:

“Well, I mean, we have 20 plus thousand people in the stadium. That’s how it’s different. The atmosphere is different.

“Last year I think the match we played with Dominic, the crowd would have gone insane. But there was no crowd. That’s the difference. That’s what I’m talking about.

“It’s so much more fun, so much more entertaining I think for everybody to be there when there are big numbers of spectators there.”

When Zverev walks out onto the court at Arthur Ashe Stadium to face Djokovic sometime around 7 p.m. this evening local time (1 a.m. Saturday Central European time), he’ll do his best to stay in the moment and not overthink.

“If you start overthinking, you don’t have the time to do that on court, everything happens in a split second,” Zverev said earlier this week in press.

“I think the moment players start overthinking, you can see it on court. Tennis is a natural game, a game of feel, as well. Whatever you’re feeling in that moment is the right decision.

“Yeah, most important decision in my life was I think taking control of my own life,” Zverev added. “That’s what I have done I think this year, beginning of this year. I’m taking control over everything, of my life, of my home in Monaco, of my business life, of my management, of companies that I want to work with, everything is happening and going through me, which before everything was happening with the people I hired, which is a big difference. I feel like that shows on court, because that also does give you confidence.

“If you are in control of your own life, you are in control of your tennis. Players and people, I have my parents around, I have my brother around, I have my team around. That didn’t change. But the decision-making in everything, it changed in a way that I am the one calling all the shots, in a way, and that is a huge difference. …

“I’m happy where I am, I’m happy with how things are, and I’m happy with how things were the last few months.”