A gutting loss

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“I know that I could have done some big things here.  I know that I could have done something that I’ve never done before but… I won’t.  It’s just as simple as that.”

That’s how Alexander Zverev described the consequences of his defeat in the second round of the U.S Open.  He is right.  He came into this tournament with as much momentum and confidence as anyone could.  He’d won a build up masters title in Montreal and despite being defeated by Frances Tiafoe in Cincinnati, everyone knew the German was playing well enough to make a deep run here.  Some, including myself, thought he had an outside chance to win the whole thing.  Then there was the draw.  Alexander Zverev touched on this repeatedly in his post match interview.  The draw had opened up for him.  Long before the tournament, Djokovic, Raonic, Nishikori and Wawrinka, had already ended their seasons to recover from injury.  Then came Murray’s surprise last minute pull out as he couldn’t get a sore hip ready in time.  Of all the members of the ATP’s next-gen, he was the one who the open draw theoretically benefited the most.

What happened?

A man named Borna Coric.  I must admit, I’d taken a side shot at Coric in a comment on this Tennis Magazine Article, for a proclamation he made more than two years ago, where he stated he was the best of his generation.  I’d thought the comment a little cocky at the time and found his subsequent lack of success a bit of poetic justice and a little lesson in humility for the young star.  Last night, Coric made me eat my words.  He certainly played like the best of his generation, particularly after a losing the first set.  Coric came into this match with a 1 – 0 H2H lead over Zverev.  However, that win came a few years ago and Zverev had improved in leaps and bounds ever since.  Few if any, were expecting Coric to extend his match wins over the lanky German.

The truth is, we were missing one age old fact.  Tennis is a game of matchups.  As I watched this contest drag out, I couldn’t help but think that maybe Coric will end up being a bad matchup for Zverev, no matter how good Zverev gets.  Back in January, Zverev went toe to toe with Rafael Nadal, in an epic third round contest. The match went five sets and I distinctly remember Zverev struggling physically in the fifth set, while Nadal’s energy appeared to rise in leaps and bounds.  The biggest evidence of Zverev’s struggles was his inability to generate pace on his shots.  Zverev is a unique big hitter who prefers to feed of pace rather than create his own.  He’s capable of doing that, but I’ve noticed that continuous off pace balls begin to weaken him.  It must be tough coiling and uncoiling that lanky body for two, maybe three hours.  Coric must have known this,

Coric must have known this, for in the second set, he stopped trying to outslug Zverev and started outmaneuvering him instead.  It was a brilliant display of all court tennis.  Now 20, Coric’s game has become a bit bigger than it was when he was 18.  He hit with pace to surprise Zverev, then surprised him again with spins and angles.  He brought Zverev in against his will with short slices and used the drop shot effectively.  He came forward with fierce approach shots that constantly took Zverev off position, and put away the easy volleys. It was an all court master class and these variations were all body blows, weakening the giant until he was set up for the haymaker.  Zverev, by his own admission, played badly but that’s because Coric did not allow him to continue playing well.  From the second set, he slowly pulled Zverev’s game down and soon the errors started flowing.  The match followed soon after.

This is in my opinion, Coric’s most impressive win till date.  Since that statement in 2015, he’s been left behind in the next-gen conversation.  He reinstated himself into that discussion with some style last night.  Where does that leave Alexander Zverev?  This loss will sting for a little while.  However, it is a small part of a larger trend.  Zverev does well in the build up tournaments.  Well enough to get us talking about his grand slam chances, and then fails to live up to expectations in the biggest tournaments of the year.  He shone in the Hopman cup and then fell to Nadal in Australia.  He outclassed everyone in Rome and then stumbled at the first hurdle in Roland Garros.  Wimbledon was his best Grand Slam showing all year, but he returned to status quo with this loss.  The season is far from over, but Zverev and his team need to start thinking about how he can mentally and physically peak for the slams.

I stated in my Zverev preview that he is due for a deep run at the slams.  That remains true.  By his own admission, it just won’t happen this year.

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