Seven-time Grand Slam champion Mats Wilander gave his verdict on Alexander Zverev, as he suggested the upcoming Australian Open may not be his moment to make a breakthrough on a Grand Slam stage.
How do you explain Zverev’s lack of success at the Grand Slam events?
In terms of playing five sets, you have to play tactically, you have to be very, very good. You have to be understanding that a tennis match of five sets has momentum switches back and forth and you are not going to play great for the whole match and you are not going to play horrible for the whole match because you have that extra distance to play, so I think tactically you have to be very smart in terms of what do I do now, when do I change, when do I not change?
What happens when I am up two sets to love, do I play the same way I did or do I change it a little bit? I don’t think he hasn’t quite figured out what he needs to do depending on who is in the match and I think he will find it but with some players it is not natural to play five sets.
Surely the best players should thrive over the longer format?
For me, it was the most natural when I had time and I enjoyed having time on my side. Rafa (Nadal) enjoys having time on his side and I think Roger Federer enjoys having time to solve problems, but for Sasha so far it hasn’t quite worked out.
If he starts bad he doesn’t quite come out of playing bad and if he is playing good, it seems he is not quite prepared for when he’s not playing good so it is more of a learning situation and he hasn’t had to learn how to win matches at an early age because he has won so much already so why is he not doing it now? It will take him a little bit of time to understand I think how he needs to play in five sets.
Do you think he has enough time to learn this?
It is early in his career yet, so yes he has enough time. In terms of the Australian Open and being on a faster court, maybe he is not ready this time around because when the courts are faster on the men’s side, the serve is a weapon for everybody.
For him, his serve is a weapon on every surface, but then Roger Federer’s serve is a weapon as well so the faster court is not a great situation for Sasha being a little bit taller, playing a little bit further back from the baseline, this is most probably, for me, the Australian Open is the worst surface for him.
So I have no expectations and there are no expectations from the outside except for maybe the Germans but from the rest of the world, there is not really any pressure on Sasha to make any of the finals or to win a slam at the moment and I think as a player sometimes playing with no pressure can be a benefit.
Were you disappointed by the lack of progress made by Alex Zverev in 2019?
Well, when he serves well he doesn’t struggle as much so the service is important for him obviously. I think he always has good attitude and yes, he does show emotion but he has a good attitude.
You know Sasha is going to be prepared, as prepared as he can be, because he is the ultimate professional and obviously the confidence is not going to be at the highest because of the last few months or whatever, but I think Sasha is a player who is going to be consistent throughout his whole career and is going to have times when he is serving well and then everything else comes easy.
Does he need to improve the tactical side of his game?
Tactically he is probably not quite where he needs to be compared to the top players in the world. He is a little bit too passive for me but also he is still very young and we have to understand that he has most probably proven to the rest of the world that he belongs at the top of the game and sometimes it is not that easy to find the motivation all the time when you have already been in the top three for the last years.
I think we have to have a bit of patience and it is a matter of time before he comes back and is again one of the five, six best players in the world. Can he win a Grand Slam? That’s something we will never know until he wins one. I am not sure, five sets seem to be a problem for Sasha, not tennis the game but playing five sets seems to be a problem that he hasn’t solved quite yet.
Is it a good solution if your father is your coach as well or could it be a difficulty?
I think the coach has nothing to do with being your friend or father or brother or mother, I think it’s more what is your relationship like off the court with the person who is trying to tell you what they believe you should be doing on the tennis court.
Sometimes it works being the father or the mother and sometimes it doesn’t. I feel like they are searching for a different situation than he’s in and I would say that Sasha Senior is most probably like Toni Nadal. I’m not sure you could find a better coach for Sasha than his father but at the same time maybe it is time for him to make decisions on his own and take responsibility rather than listening to somebody who cares more about him than himself.
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