What's your game plan?
He is just 20 but already mixes with the elite of the tennis world. Competitors and experts are touting Alexander Zverev as the next big international tennis icon. This is a prophecy that fits very well with his own plans. “Sascha” is not a typical young talent: he reflects, shows strength in extreme situations and knows how to gain respect off the court.
This is Alexander Zverev's game plan.
You were five when you started playing tennis and you turned professional at a young age. Young people have many interests. How did you manage to keep your eye on the ball, so to speak?
I’ve never had a problem focusing entirely on tennis. I always wanted to be a professional player. That was always my goal and my passion, so achieving that was quite a smooth process. My brother Mischa also helped me make the step up to seniors. He has played on the tour for a few years and gave me lots of advice about what I should do in order to play just as well against the pros as against juniors. It’s thanks to him that I won my first few matches. I think it is important to have someone like him to refer to – a mentor.
You were one of the world's best juniors. After taking the step up to the seniors, you had to fight your way up from the bottom just like anyone else. Now you're in the ATP top 50. What is your strategy for gaining respect on and off the court among the top players in the world?
A key moment in my career was the quarterfinal of the ATP tournament in Hamburg in 2014. I didn’t stand a chance in the first set and lost it 0-6, but I fought back and won – taking the deciding set with a relatively comfortable 6-3 score. That’s when I felt like I popped up on the radar of other players and started to gain respect.
If you keep turning up at tournaments but losing in the first round, the competition will say ‘he’s certainly giving it a go but it isn’t really working out’. But if they see that, from a young age, you are playing well and defeating strong players who have been on the tour for ten years or more, even the great tennis stars may feel that they should have some respect for you.
Tennis is a one-on-one, face-to-face duel, a battle of minds and willpower. Especially in moments like that ATP quarterfinal, when things seem hopeless. How do you manage to stay cool and focused in high-pressure situations?
The mechanism is essentially the same as in any other sport, regardless of whether it is a team sport or an individual sport. In key situations, you have to deliver your best performance. This is the mark of the best tennis players in the world.
My actions in such situations are based on a very conscious thought process. This is impossible to simulate in training. The more pressure situations you experience and the better you reflect on your actions afterwards, the greater the learning effect and the resulting increase in performance.
This is exactly what you learn on the professional tour and what shapes you.
What are the long-term goals of an exceptional talent and how do you go about achieving these goals?
I have a vision of how I want to play tennis in the future and I know exactly how I have to train in order to be able to play my best tennis in the coming years. I am in the initial phase now, creating the basis upon which I can build to go on and hopefully win the big tournaments.
I want to win Grand Slams and be the best player in the world. I’m working towards these goals every day by training harder than anyone else. We will have to see how my story evolves and how fast I can do it.