Zverev needs to learn to tough it out

Zverev, the leader so far of what's being called the NextGen, is having a rough time of it. After a couple of seasons of sparkling performances, with five titles in 2017 and four in 2018, among them three Masters 1000 and an ATP Finals title, he's struggling as tries to consolidate his position in the tennis elite. In 2019 he's failed to find his best tennis and doubts have started to appear over his game. Tennis, with its peculiar ATP ranking system, has proved once again it's easier to reach than the top than it is to stay there. Another reason, if one were needed, to appreciate what the Big Three have done.

Zverev hit rock bottom in his defeat to Diego Schwartzman at the US Open. His 17 double faults and poor form left him almost unrecognisable. Lacking energy, due to his three previous lengthy duels, and with a couple of physical niggles, he lacked his usual aggressiveness and spark on his shots and ended up trapped in a style of play more appropriate to clay, against a player with less punch but with great consistency. Somehow he failed to use his best weapons and ended up crashing out. A painful defeat, which he needs to digest and then use to spur him on to keep improving.

It's another disappointment for the 22-year-old in a Grand Slam. the hardest tournaments by far in the calendar. There's a reason why the most money and glory are to be found at them. The players come to the slams with the highest level of motivation, while the tournaments themselves always hand out major surprises, just as they always test the physical capabilities and mental resistance of the players. Very few people can win seven consecutive best-of-five-set matches in under two weeks, no matter how good they are with a racket in hand. And making life difficult for yourself in the opening rounds tends to catch up with you in the second week. In tennis, the head and the legs are more important than the hands.

What's more, being in the limelight, with the tag of 'future star' isn't easy to cope with. Just ask Dimitrov, currently number 78 in the world. Everyone now knows Zverev's strong and weak points, he's been studied in and out... making every game harder than before. Further, he's experiencing how hard it is to defend a huge amount of points and start as a top seed in the tournaments. The pressure is obvious, both because of the expectations from the fans as well as those that are self-imposed. Until he's able to control them, he'll struggle to move up to the next level.