Zverev: “Physically I’m not at the level that I have to be”

Zverev says it will take him time to recover full strength after his serious ankle injury

Alexander Zverev United Cup 2023 © United Cup

Alexander Zverev knew it would take him time to build towards his top level as he returned to top-flight action, and so it proved as he was beaten 6-4, 6-2 by Jiri Lehecka of the Czech Republic at the United Cup in Sydney on Saturday.

In his first official Tour match since suffering a serious ankle injury in the French Open semi-final against Rafael Nadal, he found things tough, physically and the world No 12 was well-beaten by the world No 81.

With eight double faults and 23 unforced errors, only one break point converted in seven opportunities and a distinctly average record at the net (7/16), the German clearly lacked rhythm and direction on the court, which is not surprising given his extended absence and the seriousness of his injury.

“I think feeling-wise I felt OK,” he said. “But I think my tennis is far away from the level I want it to be. I think it’s also normal not playing for seven months. There are things that are different than I’m used to. I think I was getting tired a lot quicker than I’m used to. But that comes obviously with not playing.

“(Am I ) concerned? Probably not. Physically I’m not at the level that I have to be. This is not even a question. I’m getting tired I think a lot quicker than I always did. I’m not as fast as I probably was.”

Zverev: I’ve only been pain-free for two or three weeks

Zverev played at a good level during a number of exhibition tournaments in December, which included a win over Novak Djokovic at the World Tennis League. But official competition is very different and the 25-year-old knows it. The German will need to play a series of matches to get back to the level he was at before his injury but has only recently been able to play without any pain in the ankle.

“To be honest, I’m only pain-free for about two, three weeks now, since Saudi Arabia basically,” he said. “Before that I had pain and I wasn’t able to do all the different kind of things I want to do.

“I don’t think it will be a matter of tomorrow, after tomorrow. It will be a few weeks until I’m back to the level I want to be.”

Australian hopes low for Zverev

As a result, Zverev does not expect to be in a position to compete for his first Grand Slam title in Melbourne in January when the Australian Open begins.

“I think it’s tough to set expectations high right now,” he said. “It would be unrealistic and also quite stupid for me to set the expectations towards winning or something like that.

“Of course, I want to win. Everybody wants to win. For me, it’s about getting back the form that I’m used to.”

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