When Alexander Zverev beat Andrey Rublev in the finals of the Western and Southern Open, it was a momentous occasion for German star. He became the first man since Andre Agassi in 1996 to win both an Olympic gold medal and the Cincinnati Masters in the same year. This was also his 17th career title since he entered the senior ranks. The final win also saw him move up the rankings; he is now fourth, ahead of Rafael Nadal. Given Nadal won’t be at the US Open, this seems as good a time as any for Zverev to consolidate his higher-ranked status.
It is, however, also the perfect time for him to finally become a Grand Slam winner for the first time in his career. Zverev has long been touted as a superstar in the making.
After all, it was Nadal himself who said the German was a “clear possible future number 1”. World number 1 Novak Djokovic went a step further, saying he hopes Zverev surpasses him.
It’s been more than five years now since Zverev captured the attention of the world when he upset Roger Federer at the Halle Open in 2016. Now, it seems, he is primed to shed the tag of “future star” and embrace the present.
2021 has seen Alexander Zverev become a consistent presence in both ATP Tour and Grand Slam events. He made the quarters of the Australian Open before being eliminated by Djokovic.
He then won the Madrid Masters title before making it to the semi-finals of the French Open. There, he lost out on a final spot after losing to Stefanos Tsitsipas in a five-set match.
He would then make it to the fourth round of Wimbledon before, of course, winning gold in the Olympics. En route to that achievement, he beat Djokovic in the semis no less.
That he managed to beat Djokovic despite being a set and a break down was even more impressive. He followed that up with a straight sets win over Karen Khachanov in the final.
Yet it was his exploits at Cincinnati that deserve closer scrutiny. Prior to 2021, Zverev had not won a single match at Cincinnati – that meant he entered the tournament this year with an 0-6 record.
That he could put that behind him and then also go the distance shows the mental space he is in. Zverev is riding the wave of momentum – and he believes in his own game.
As such, he is excited at the prospect of playing in the US Open as things stand.
“I’m looking forward to it (US Open) because I know where I stand, I know how I’m playing, and I hope I can continue the work and hopefully play even better in New York.”
Zverev will also be looking to make up for the heartbreak of the 2020 US Open, arguably his best chance thus far to break his Grand Slam duck.
Facing Dominic Thiem in the finals, Zverev roared to a two-set lead early on. Thiem, however, fought back to take the match to a decider.
The final set reached a tie-break even though he should have wrapped up the match earlier. Zverev was in prime position to win this set, twice within two points of a victory.
Yet he would lose the tie-break 8-6 – and become the first male player to lose a US Open final after leading by two sets. He also became the first finallist since Guillermo Coria at the 2004 French Open to lose on a tie-break.
And while the heartbreak was undoubtedly massive for him, he’s clearly grown as a player since then. What’s more, like last year’s US Open, this year too will see a depleted field.
There will be no Federer or Nadal, meaning Djokovic would be the favourite. It is an assessment Zverev agrees with. But he remains confident in himself.
“I do think that he (Djokovic) is still the favorite. I do think he’s going to be playing incredible tennis there. He’s going to be fresh, and I think there is also other guys that are in very good form.
“Let’s see how it goes. I still have a lot of work ahead of me. I have to find my rhythm in New York as well.”
Tennis fans will doubtless hope he finds it soon.