Comment: Time is running out for Alexander Zverev after his latest horror show exposed his decline

Kevin Palmer
Alexander Zverev enters the court

It was the night that appeared to signal the beginning of a new era at the top of men’s tennis, yet Alexander Zverev’s new dawn proved to be false.

The 2018 ATP Finals at London’s O2 Arena appeared to fire the starting gun on the career of a player who has long been as the “next big thing” in the men’s game, with Zverev’s straight-set wins against Roger Federer in the semi-final and Novak Djokovic in the final leading many a seasoned observer to conclude that the promise this dashing German has always offered was ready to explode.

At the age of 21, it appeared that Zverev’s time to join the living legends of the game and compete for the biggest prizes had arrived and yet the tale of woe he has pieced together as we race towards the second anniversary of his greatest moment has been painful to behold.

An appearance in the Australian Open semi-final at the start of 2020 was a rare highlight for a young man who continues to unravel at the biggest tournaments and to see him crumble and collapse in desperate fashion as he lost to Andy Murray in New York on Monday night confirmed he has now hit rock bottom.

His flashing forehand, a glorious first serve and an all-court game that could be as polished as any in the sport have been undermined by a glitch on his second serve that continues to afflict him and now the problem has reached crisis point.

Zverev had Murray beaten after a long and compelling battle in the re-located Western and Southern Open, with the German serving for the match as the fading Scot struggled to hold on to his serve in the final set.

Yet even with his energy levels draining, Murray knew his hopes could be reignited as Zverev stepped up to the line to serve for the match, with his double fault problems overflowing once the pressure was applied.

The devious Murray had looked to expose Zverev’s biggest flaw from the off as he deviously stood well up the court to receive the German’s second serve and when he started doubled faulting while he trailed 5-4 in the third set, Murray sensed his moment.

A few minutes later, Murray collected his first win against a top 10 opponent since 2017, but this was a gift from an ailing opponent and in the opinion of Amazon Prime Sport expert Annabel Croft, Zverev’s serving woes run deep.

“The yips he has now got on his serve are now deeply embedded,” said Croft. “The serving with double faults back-to-back… it’s almost as as if is going to take a hypnotist to eradicate this problem because it is so deeply ingrained in his brain that it doesn’t matter how much it practises, it won’t go away.”

Croft’s fellow Amazon pundit Tim Henman shared the belief that Zverev’s career is now in peril and with the US Open just a few days away, it is hard to see how he can find the answers to the mounting questions around him any time soon.

Zverev’s confidence in his own ability has been highlighted by the amount of coaching talent he has discarded in recent years and while he decided the input of former world No.1’s Juan Carlos Ferrero and Ivan Lendl did not help his cause, the evidence on the court confirms he is in need of a major career bypass.

David Ferrer is the latest former great recruited by Zverev to give him the X-Factor he is lacking and even at the age of 23, it feels like time is running out for one of the great enigmas in tennis to prove he is worthy of the hype around him.

Follow Kevin Palmer on Twitter @RealKevinPalmer

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