Alexander Zverev, Germany’s best tennis player, is regarded as the rightful successor to Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic. He spoke with us about traveling, the importance of speed and his goal of winning a Grand Slam tournament.
We meet Alexander Zverev, aka “Sascha,” between two tournaments in Monte Carlo, his chosen home. In spite of having been subjected to a doping test first thing in the morning that messed up his daily routine, he comes along to the interview in a good mood. One thing he divulges is why he still has unfinished business with Rafael Nadal.
Mr. Zverev, Does one have to be a restless soul to perform as a professional athlete within the global entertainment system?
We all live out of a suitcase, obviously, and there are naturally also times when I would prefer to stay home and do nothing. But I value my situation nevertheless. I always try to see the positive side: I travel around the world, play the sport I love and earn good money doing it. For me, there’s no better life than that.
What kind of home-travel ratio have you managed so far this year?
I haven’t been home much. I played in Australia at the beginning of the year, but then an injury kept me from competing until March. After that, things really took off: Acapulco, Frankfurt, Indian Wells, Miami, Marrakech. Then I was here in Monaco for a few days. After that, I played in Barcelona, Munich, Madrid, Rome, Geneva, Paris, Stuttgart, Halle and London. I’ve been back home for ten days, but I’m off again to my next tournament tomorrow.
You visit the same cities every year to play tennis. Do you have any favorites?
I like the Latino culture in Miami. Strolling through town, I can feel the energy. Rome’s history and beauty make it a special place, too. Walking along the streets, you can step inside any building and the culture and architecture of the place will overwhelm you. Acapulco is definitely another favorite – the beaches, the atmosphere and the whole way of life is really fantastic. A lot of the people there are huge tennis fans. They love it when we tennis players are town.
You’ve been living in Monte Carlo since 2015. What brought you here?
It’s almost become a real home to me now. My brother has been living here for a long time, and the weather is wonderful all year round. The tennis scene is also fabulous. Many of the best players in the world are here, and so we can always train together. Everything here is tailored to the sport and I feel incredibly at home.
Both your parents were professional tennis players. Did you ever consider a different career?
I played field hockey and soccer alongside tennis for a long time, but somehow, I always liked tennis best. It was entirely my own decision to pursue a career in professional tennis. My parents have often said that they would have had a simpler and much quieter life if I had not become a tennis pro. (Laughs)
What was your biggest victory to date?
Being able to win the ATP Finals in London last November, no question. Not even Rafael Nadal has won that – and apart from the Grand Slam tournaments, it is definitely the most important one of all.
And your greatest defeat?
There have been a few – and all of them to Nadal. In 2016, I lost to him in Indian Wells on my own match point. A year later, I came up against Rafa in the Australian Open – a bitter match for me, which he won in five sets. In 2018, I lost to him in Rome after being ahead in the third set, when it started to rain. That match in particular has left me wanting to play Nadal a few more times in my career.
What does an ordinary day of training look like?
Today, I was unexpectedly woken at half past seven by someone from the World Anti-Doping Agency. That wasn’t so nice, I would have liked to sleep a bit longer. But it’s all part of the job. We are tested as often as 50 times a year. Because I was already awake, I trained for an hour with my physiotherapist after the test and then did a 45-minute warm-up with my personal trainer. From 12 to 2 p.m., I was on the tennis court, then grabbed a quick bite to eat before coming to this interview. I will be going into the stadium again at around seven this evening to do 12 400-meter runs. After that, there will be stretching exercises and another 90 minutes with my physiotherapist. A typical day’s training can easily go for seven hours or more. People may imagine that all we do is spend a few hours on the court knocking balls around, but they would be wrong.
The Big Three – Federer, Nadal and Djokovic – have been dominating the sport for years and still do even now, at over 30 years old. Are they exceptional athletes or does tennis allow older players to compete at top level for longer these days?
It’s not just tennis that’s changed, but the general approach to professional sports. Athletes are competing for much longer in other disciplines, too. More and more importance is being attached to the universe in which the sport takes place.
My parents would have had a simpler and much quieter life if I hadn’t become a professional tennis player
Can you be more specific?
You can see physique and speed playing an increasingly large role every couple of years. Added to that, professionalization is on the rise. You have to adapt or you won’t be at the top for long. Federer, for example, is playing his best tennis right now, in my opinion – at 38.
Do you think your own success and that of Angelique Kerber is making tennis more popular again in Germany?
Absolutely. We mainly have Angie and her three Grand Slam wins to thank for that. My victory in London last year and the fact that Angie and I have ranked among the world top 10 for the past two years has also contributed to a tennis comeback in this country.
What are some of the most recent goals you’ve set yourself?
I’m only 22, but I’ve already won all the tournament categories apart from a Grand Slam, so a Grand Slam win is at the top of my list right now.
Which one would you like to win first?
Every Grand Slam tournament is special in its own way. I won the junior competition in Australia in 2014. To me, that one is the best of all the Grand Slam tournaments because none of the others offer players the same level of personal support. That said, the conditions there are the toughest we encounter anywhere. Nadal, a clay court specialist, has won 12 times in Paris. It would be amazing to triumph there. The U.S. Open in New York is the biggest tournament we have. And Wimbledon is the most prestigious, of course.
Picture yourself at the next table, observing Sascha Zverev giving this interview. What kind of a person do you see before you?
I would hope to see a person for whom tennis means everything and who gives his all in every match. The emotions this person reveals on court – whether the spectators like him or not – are really genuine, never an act. Alex Zverev is a perfectly normal 22-year-old, someone with whom you can always exchange a few words and who is still very much down to earth.