As I write this piece, Federer and Zverev are warming up to play the Halle grass court final in what should be a mouth-watering clash between arguably the one of the most gifted tennis players and athletes in some time and one Roger Federer. It is perhaps no coincidence that the highlight reel of the Olympic-torch passing match between Federer and Sampras, their only encounter to date, should air just before this final begins.
Zverev has unmistakeable and like-able qualities. He’s got a mean serve, has a world beater of a double handed backhand and can cover real estate on the tennis court like a gazelle. Aggressive of both wings, the guy moves with ease and his game is difficult to read.
A hugely talented and humble kid, he’s got one of the most complete all-court games to have emerged in this thankfully brief interlude when the game kept producing one dimensional baseline sluggers (some of whom have gone on to be knighted – Murray fans, look away). The burden of expectation can be quite crippling – just ask Kei Nishikori who is loved by all of Japan and has many admirers worldwide. A lot was expected of Kei, but injuries have not permitted this little pugilist to fulfil the promise that he still holds. Sasha Zverev, on the other hand, simply has that annoying natural athlete like qualities that only the likes of Federer have shown on a consistent basis.
The only part left to develop in his game is the ability to play big matches. He’s already the tennis superstar the ATP has identified to set the example for the upcoming generation, rather unimaginatively branded #NextGenATP. This will come through a combination of heartbreaking losses as well as the easy ones. As any Rocky montage would tell you, to truly actualise as a champion one must go through a world of professional and personal hurt.
And this final could hurt a lot as he faces the very best in the business. Federer must know the qualities of Zverev and the tennis fraternity knows that Sasha has earned the GOAT’s respect, seeing as he was the penultimate player to beat Roger on grass. This match will truly be the acid test for Zverev as Roger will do his very best to now allow him to dictate terms. But such is his talent, application and love for the game, that even if he takes a hiding, he will emerge as a far better player next time around. He has plenty of years ahead of him to dish out hidings to his peers once these ageing greats have gracefully walked into the sunset. After all he is, rightfully, the chosen one to lead the next line of tennis greats. And of course, there’s always the chance that Nick Kyrgios might show up, hopefully.