There’s certainly something to be said for keeping it in the family, and this has never been more true than for Alexander Zverev.
Sascha is the youngest member of a family that has always lived and breathed tennis. His father, Alexander Sr., was a professional tennis player (no. 175 in the world) and his mother, Irena, is a coach. As if that weren’t enough, his older brother, Mischa, also makes his living with a racquet in hand. So, in a sense, when Alexander arrived in the world on Sunday 20 April 1997, his destiny was already written. Only the passing of the years would tell how far he might go. In fact, we are still far from knowing today.
The family from Moscow moved to Hamburg (Germany) six years before the birth of the youngest of the Zverevs. Very soon, at just five years of age, he was on court taking tennis lessons and imitating what he saw every day at home. So began the work of a father passing his knowledge on to his two sons, far from his country of birth but with the conviction that he had everything it takes for both of them to develop their talent. Time would show how right he was.
Sascha grew up admiring the achievements of Roger Federer and with the hope of someday playing against his childhood idol. At 15 years of age he demonstrated that this was no pipe dream. His path was laid out before him, he just had to follow it. In 2013 he played in the junior French Open, where he bowed out at the final hurdle, and just a few months later, at the 2014 Australian Open he picked up his first Grand Slam trophy in the category (defeating Kozlov). The young German of Russian origin also reached the no. 1 spot in the junior rankings. It was a promising start.
At this time, his brother had broken into the top 100 of the ATP ranking. Mischa provided a mirror Sascha could look into and, eventually, for Alexander Sr. every training session became a sled pulled by two hungry wolves. Fate would have it that an injury would knock the elder brother back down the world rankings and, almost simultaneously, the two of them prepared a new assault on the world’s one hundred best players.
Alexander Zverev burst into the top 100 on 18 May 2015. He was 18 years old. One season later he was already in the top 20, in 2017 he broke into the top 10 and in 2018, after lifting the trophy at the Mutua Madrid Open, he consolidated a place in the top 3 that is still his today. “I think my father could be one of the best family coaches of all time. I don’t believe another coach has done it, taking two players from the start, from absolute zero to the top 25 in the world. So I really think he’s one of the best coaches of all time”, Sascha admits today.
“My father has two sons who have been in the top 25 in the world with two completely different styles of game. That’s not easy to do. You have to be very intelligent, you have to know what to practise, what to teach. Our training sessions are completely different”, he adds on his father’s merit. But Alexander Sr. is not alone in his quest to polish the game of the player returning to the Caja Mágica to defend his crown, this time at 22 years of age. Tennis legends such as Juan Carlos Ferrero in 2017 and Ivan Lendl, as from August 2018, have helped nurture a young talent destined to usher in a new era on the ATP tour.
And that’s just what he has been doing since breaking into the elite three seasons ago, on a tour that is getting used to his record-breaking, veteran-like exploits and where careers are now longer than ever. However, tennis continues to celebrate the victories of his hero, who recently became the second player in history to rack up 100 titles, at 37 years of age, while others such as Rafael Nadal (32), Novak Djokovic (31) and Juan Martín del Potro (30) continue to go head to head for the biggest titles and the world no. 1 spot.
And there lies Alexander Zverev’s biggest virtue. Early success. His feats on tour hark back to times of old, where the brashness of unknown youths would upset the bookies, just as Lleyton Hewitt and Rafael Nadal did before him. Now it is the German’s turn to take the baton. Only last November he won the ATP Finals, the tournament that brings together the season’s eight best players. In London, he became the youngest player to win the tournament since the man he played in the final, Novak Djokovic, did so back in 2008, when it was still played in Shanghai.
Again, on that day, the mind went back to the afternoons in Hamburg, when two young boys, Sascha and Mischa, led by Alexander Sr., dreamed of hoisting these trophies to the sky. “I would like to give all my thanks to my father, who has been my coach my whole life. I’m sure he won’t stop crying until next year. Thank you also to Ivan [Lendl] for joining my team. I think that everything is working for now!” stated the German on court at the prize-giving ceremony. It was the end of a season that he finished with the same number of titles as Djokovic and Federer (4), as well as more victories than any other player all year (58).
Today Sascha and Mischa continue to show their gratitude to the family for their upbringing by giving back in the form of titles. They also sometimes share the same side of the court, reaching seven doubles finals together and winning two, at Montpellier in 2017 and in Acapulco earlier this year. On his own, the younger of the Zverevs now has 10 crowns and he is coming back to the Mutua Madrid Open fully intent on demonstrating why he is known as ‘The Little Prince’.