The drama on and off the pitch of Alexander Zverev

When Alexander Zverev left Roland-Garros last year, it was in a wheelchair. He was in tears.

After tearing ligaments in his right ankle while running for a ball, Zverev was forced to retire in the semi-finals against eventual champion Rafael Nadal. Zverev was hoping to win his first major title after winning the ATP Finals twice and winning a gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics. He was also a runner-up at the 2020 US Open.

Zverev has faced a lot of adversity, much of it self-inflicted. A public feud with a former agent over money was settled out of court. Allegations of domestic abuse by a former girlfriend dogged him for around two years, prompting an investigation by the ATP, which ultimately found no substantial evidence of the allegations. And after throwing a tantrum on the court following a doubles loss last year, Zverev was fined $40,000 and served 12 months probation for ‘unsportsmanlike conduct’.

Yet Zverev remains one of the hardest working people on tour.

The following interview has been edited and condensed.

You are known for your physical strength on the court. But the game is also mental. What is more difficult for you?

I always feel like when I’m doing the work, I’m also mentally prepared. Once I’ve done everything to be ready to win, there’s nothing to be nervous about. If you don’t play well, you don’t play well. Sometimes things happen beyond your control in any sport, especially in tennis because it is a singular sport.

You’ve been super competitive since you were a kid. How has that helped you on the ATP Tour?

I hated losing. It helped me because when someone younger or better came along, I tried to outdo them. When I work harder than everyone, I will be better than everyone. Which isn’t always the right thing. I learned that with age.

Everyone talks about your father’s influence on your game, but didn’t your mother teach you the technique?

She had more effect on me than my father because she was the one who taught me the game from a very young age. More people talk about my dad because he’s my real coach now, along with Sergi Bruguera. But my mother had a much greater influence than my father.

Of all the men you’ve beaten – Nadal, Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic, Daniil Medvedev – who is the toughest?

They all have their own difficulty. When Rafa plays well on clay, he is unbeatable. I played against Novak on a lot of surfaces, but when he is in the zone he is also very difficult. With Roger, everything happens so quickly. You feel like you’ve just started the match, and you’re already a set and a break behind, and you have absolutely no idea how it happened. Medvedev simply does not miss. It doesn’t matter what position you put him in on the pitch, he’s always going to put the ball back, so you have to win games yourself. And Carlos Alcaraz, with him it’s obviously power. Honestly, you can’t name one that’s the hardest.

With everything you’ve been through in the last few years, from your personal issues to your injury, what’s the most important thing you’ve learned about yourself?

When you are young, you are naive. You think everyone is your best friend, that they’re there because they really like you. But tennis is a business which, unfortunately, is not always the best in the world. I have a very close circle. I don’t let people in so much anymore. I only have people I really trust 100%. I had to learn to go inside myself, to get the noise out of my head to be able to compete.

What about that game that gives you the most joy?

It’s that you really are you. You win by yourself, you lose by yourself. You cannot hide behind your teammates. A lot of players say they play for the money and they don’t really like tennis. I am someone who absolutely loves what I do. I can’t imagine doing anything else. For me, there is no better life.

nytimes sport

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