It has been an extraordinary year for 20-year-old tennis star Alexander Zverev. But his astonishing campaign, his appearance at the ATP World Tour Finals, or his ranking of fourth in the world, would not have been possible if not for a truly breathtaking performance at the Rome Masters. By Jade du Preez.
Alexander Zverev’s win at the Rome Masters was one of unparalleled notoriety, for the young player was not exactly the bookies favourite. His year as a whole has been meteoric – with five titles to his name, two of which were in Masters events, in comparison to last year’s single title in St. Petersburg.
But Rome felt like the springboard to an incredible season for the German. He beat tour favourites like Novak Djokovic, John Isner and Fabio Fognini along the way, as well as wiping out Kevin Anderson, Viktor Troicki and Milos Raonic to take home the Italian crown in May.
The final, against Djokovic, was a match that we all thought we could predict. Zverev had been playing impeccable tennis for an underdog, and after two tie-breaks and two three-set matches, it would be understandable if the 20-year-old were to struggle to keep up with Djokovic in the final.
Everyone could see it going one of two ways; Djokovic cleanly sails past his younger competitor to yet another victory or Zverev puts up a fight but Djokovic, with all of his years of experience, outlasts him – either way it looked like Djokovic would be adding another shiny trophy to his vast collection. And then Zverev went and stunned us all.
The score was one of unimaginable ease – 6-4 6-3. It was quick and cut throat, but Zverev played a clean and concise match – he knew what he wanted and with Rafael Nadal levels of determination, he got it. The world number 2, Djokovic, allowed Zverev his time in the spotlight, but this was not his first foray into victory, it was to be his third title of the year, but his first Masters, and it certainly was not his last.
Montpellier and Munich were both under his belt and the Rome trophy was not long on the mantelpiece before successive wins at the Citi Open in Washington and Coupe Rogers in Montreal followed only two months later. Montreal was his second Masters win of the season but it cemented his place among the top 10, where he now sits at a year-end number 4 after having competed at the prestigious Nitto ATP Finals.
But it will always be Rome, where the spark was lit and the fire truly and visibly ignited in Zverev. He seemed to go from a boy learning the ropes, to a man who knew how to hit with the best of them, pulling away from the Next Generation pack and catapulting himself into the big leagues. He led the Next Gen Finals race for the majority of the year, directly entering 250, 500 and Masters 1000 competitions whilst most of the other players struggled through qualification, and this was all helped by an early victory at Rome. As Rod Laver handed that cup over, a new door opened for this young player to show his worth against his childhood idols.