ATP Munich – From disappointments to frustrations, why Alexander Zverev can no longer do it

That his second title at the Masters seems far away. Yet that was only five months ago. In Turin, Alexander Zverev had ended his 2021 season in style by successively offering himself the two best players in the world Novak Djokovic then Daniil Medvedev in the semi-finals and in the final. In the wake of a (very) impressive second half of the year – titles at the Olympic Games, Cincinnati and Vienna, semi-finals at the US Open and Paris-Bercy and quarter-final at Indian Wells -, he appeared as a contender logic to a Grand Slam title and the place of world number 1.

This time, for sure, Zverev had taken a decisive step. His new regularity in excellence was proof of this, both in the short format and in the best of five sets. But as the year changed, his old demons caught up with him. And on Wednesday, he hit a symbolic bottom by suffering an almost humiliating setback (6-3, 6-2) from the racket of a kid of barely 19 years old, certainly talented but 70th player in the world, the Dane Holger Rune. A counter-performance all the more difficult to swallow for the German Olympic champion, main seed in Munich, as it took place as soon as he entered the running in the second round.

ATP Munich

Swept away from the start, Zverev misses at home

YESTERDAY AT 1:03 PM

I was very nervous about performing in front of an audience in Germany for the first time since the pandemic started.

I’m sorry for the people who attended the game and for the tournament. I have no excuse, it’s not the fault of my physical trainer or that of my trainer. Trying to look for people who aren’t responsible for me is not worthy of a very intelligent person. I played without a forehand. I would have lost against all the players on the board today (Wednesday, editor’s note). I played my worst game in the last 6 or 7 years. But I did the best I could, even if it didn’t show on the court“, confessed to the press Zverev, visibly very touched after his defeat.

“Zverev’s bad pass is the biggest surprise of the start of the season”

It was not for the current world number 3 to denigrate the very good match of his young opponent, but to explain why he had not been able to resist even better. It was not a question of bad will or lack of motivation due to the category of the tournament (ATP 250) and its modest prestige, quite the contrary. In front of his people, he actually wanted to do too well, and that pressure kind of inhibited him as he opened up about it.

The truth is that all day I was very nervous about playing here in my country. It was the first time I played in Germany in front of an audience since the start of the pandemic and it’s clear that I fell short. What happened is a big disappointment for me.” For two years, the great “Sascha” has thus played four times in Germany for two consecutive titles in Cologne indoors at the end of 2020, an eighth in Halle and a quarter in… Munich last year. But each time, the camera had been imposed for health security reasons, coronavirus obliges.

Melbourne, the trigger for a vicious circle

Zverev did not want to disappoint his people so much that he tensed up and missed the event. Surely too aware that the crowds in Munich all week depended on his career, he could not transform this imperative of victory into an opportunity to share his pleasure in finding fans committed to his cause. Behind the “poker face” displayed in match, hides a player still too permeable to the external elements.

Zverev smashed the referee’s chair: his incredible freakout on video

Because it is not the first time this season that Zverev has failed to control his emotions. His bloodshed in Acapulco, where he repeatedly hit a referee’s chair following an admittedly frustrating but innocuous defeat in doubles, is still in everyone’s memory. Perhaps less striking, his dry defeat in the round of 16 of the Australian Open against Denis Shapovalov (6-3, 7-6, 6-3) now appears to be the trigger for this vicious circle whose ‘German has a terrible time going out.

Deep mental flaws to explore?

This first non-match at the antipodes had challenged. Because at no time had Zverev seemed able to react, as if paralyzed. In the process, he had already not veiled his face in a press conference, admitting that the prospect of settling on the throne of the circuit in the event of a first Grand Slam title in Melbourne had disturbed him. Having become a star in his country after years of misunderstanding and disenchantment, he had failed to meet expectations. More than three months later, the great “Sascha” ran into the same wall on Bavarian clay, that of emotions.

Unquestionably, the problem is mental, as was the case at the beginning of 2019 already in the wake of his coronation at the Masters in 2018, with personal concerns in the background (his father’s illness, complicated break-up with his agent). With the Madrid Masters 1000 looming, of which he is the title holder, Zverev lacks time to reverse the trend. Psychological work would perhaps not be too much to explore flaws that seem deep. Daniil Medvedev and others have used it before him, with rather encouraging results.

1h15 to find the final: Tsitsipas swept Zverev

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