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Alexander Zverev in 2021: A golden year (at least, on the court)

Olympic champion in Tokyo, winner of the ATP Finals and with six titles in all, Alexander Zverev was at his best in 2021. At 24 years old, the next step is a Grand Slam title

Alexander Zverev, 2021, Tennis Majors © AI / Reuters / Panoramic

It was a year Alexander Zverev will never forget. From March (title in Acapulco) to November, when he won the year-end Masters, he was consistent and competitive. The German won a a career-best six trophies, including two Masters 1000 titles, in Madrid and Cincinnati and the ATP Finals. And he won the coveted gold medal at the Olympic Games in Tokyo. But, unlike in 2020, the world No 3 did not reach a Grand Slam final and a slam title still eludes him.

  • Ranking at end of 2020 : 7
  • Ranking at end of 2021 : 3
  • 2021 Win-loss record: 59 – 15
  • Titles : 6

Best performance: His victory in the ATP Finals 

Alexander Zverev was at his very best at the end of the year. In Turin, the German put in two major performances at the ATP Finals. First, in the semi-finals against world No 1 Novak Djokovic: 2h28 of rallies, with 30 exchanges of more than nine shots. Zverev won in three sets, 7-6, 4-6, 6-3.

In the final, the German stunned world No 2 Daniil Medvedev, a recent US Open winner, 6-4, 6-4 in one hour and 15 minutes of play, a match in which he didn’t face a single break point. Zverev won his second Masters title to go with the one he won in 2018. The German regained the No 3 spot in the world rankings, a position he had not held since April 2019.

Best Grand Slam result: Semi-finalist at Roland-Garros and US Open

Zverev reached the last four of a Grand Slam twice in 2021. First on clay at Roland-Garros where he reached the semis without dropping a set from round three onwards. He fell to Stefanos Tsitsipas after three hours and 37 minutes of explosive tennis, fighting back from two sets down to force a decider but eventually losing out 6-3, 6-3, 4-6, 4-6, 6-3. The German missed three break point opportunities in the final set. His second Grand Slam final (after the 2020 US Open) will have to wait.

In fact, it will wait until after 2021. For his second semi-final in New York, Zverev once again lost in five sets. This time against Novak Djokovic, 4-6, 6-2, 6-4, 4-6, 6-2. The battle lasted more than three and a half hours, including a stratospheric exchange of 53 strokes in the third set, won by the world No 1. “In the important moments, I think I’d rather play anyone else than him,” Zverev said. Mentally, he’s the strongest player to ever play this game.”

Best moment of the season: Winning Olympic gold in Tokyo

Following in the footsteps of the likes of Andy Murray, Rafael Nadal and Andre Agassi, in August, Zverev won Olympic gold in Tokyo. It was a first men’s singles gold for Germany and it clearly meant a lot. “Yes, the Masters at the end of the year means a lot, but for me, a gold medal is priceless,” he explained, in tears. In the final, Zverev crushed Russia’s Karen Khachanov (6-3, 6-1). He broke at the beginning of each set.

His gold medal shines all the more brightly because 48 hours earlier Zverev achieved the feat of eliminating Djokovic in the semi-finals. The Serb had not lost for 22 matches. It’s an incredible feeling,” Zverev said after his win. There’s nothing stronger I could have dreamed of.”

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Worst moment of the season: Grand Slams remain his glass ceiling

Another year without a Grand Slam title. Zverev has won a string of titles (his 19th this year), but still hasn’t made it as a major champion, at the age of 24. In 2020, he reached his first final, at the US Open (losing to Dominic Thiem). This year, he was eliminated twice in the semi-finals, a stage he has now reached four times. He’ll have more chances in 2022.

Off-court: New accusations of domestic violence

In an article by US journalist Ben Rothenberg, published in August on the American website Slate.com, Olga Sharypova again accused her former partner Zverev of domestic violence. In it, she describes physical and psychological abuse perpetrated in 2019. The former ITF player had already accused the current world No 3 of violence, in October 2020.

After the ATP belatedly opened an investigation into him, Zverev said he was relieved, to finally “clear his name”. “It’s about time, I’ve been asking them myself for months,” he told a news conference, ahead of his Indian Wells opener in October.

After the investigation was announced, the 24-year-old German said that his lawyers had started proceedings against “the source and the author who published false allegations”. “I have asked my German and American lawyers to take up the case,” he posted on Twitter.

His self-assessment: “An incredible season”

Zverev makes no secret of his aims in the sport. “My goal is to win a Grand Slam and to be No 1 in the world”. With the year-end ATP Finals in hand, the world No 3 reflected on his season in a press conference:

“What an incredible year,” he said. “With the best ending possible. Having this trophy in my hands makes me extremely happy. It’s an incredible season that is coming to an end. I’ve shown that I can win at all levels of tournaments. I just need one more. I hope I can reach it next year. I can’t wait to start 2022.”

I’ve shown that I can win at all levels of tournaments. I just need one more.

Alexander Zverev

Tennis Majors’ assessment

Hugely impressive in the second half of the season, able to beat the best – Djokovic – twice, and stunning at the year-end ATP Finals, Zverev has displayed a level worthy of a Grand Slam winner. There’s no reason why Zverev can’t win one,” said his compatriot, Boris Becker. It will be the next natural step for him.” Zverev has improved in all areas. In particular, he has turned his serve into a weapon, no longer a liability when the first ball doesn’t go in. At 24, the goal is clear for 2022.

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Alexander Zverev, JO Tokyo 2020 – Al / Reuters / Panoramic
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