Zverev Chases Finale Hat-trick To Crown Comeback Year To Remember

  • Posted: Nov 06, 2023

Zverev Chases Finale Hat-trick To Crown Comeback Year To Remember

German has enjoyed stellar season after serious ankle injury in 2022

“It’s almost like a first Zverev Chases Finale Hat-trick To Crown Comeback Year To Remember again,” said an emotional Alexander Zverev in July after becoming champion at his hometown event, the Hamburg European Open, for the first time. “It’s such a long time, 18 months, and I’m just super happy right now.”

If an ATP Tour career can be broken up into chapters, the German has followed up one of the most tumultuous of his career with a stirring comeback storyline in 2023. One that has seen him lift his 20th and 21st tour-level trophies in Hamburg and Chengdu, respectively, and qualify for the season-ending Nitto ATP Finals for the sixth time.

Zverev had no such expectations at the start of the season, when he returned to competitive action after missing the second half of 2022 with a serious ankle injury sustained during his Roland Garros semi-final against Rafael Nadal. Although the three torn ligaments in his right ankle may have physically healed, Zverev’s 3-6 start to 2023 reflected the fact that after-effects from such a serious injury remained.

“I think at the beginning of the year I was still managing pain, I was still dealing with pain,” Zverev told the ATP Tennis Podcast. “I was not moving the way I wanted to move, I was not sliding around the court, if you look back at the matches that I played. It was more that for me.”

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While he struggled in those early months to rediscover his pre-injury level of physicality, Zverev was carrying something else, something more positive, within him. A renewed love for the game that had developed during his long road back to fitness.

“I think you really appreciate the sport of tennis,” said Zverev, when asked if he had learnt anything from his time away. “You really appreciate the tough days, the fun days. You just appreciate being out there on the court when it gets taken away from you.

“Most players realise that once they quit tennis because they don’t have this period, this injury. I realised it earlier on, so I’m thankful for that, but I want to get back to where I was.”

So where exactly ‘was’ Zverev prior to his injury? Had the two-time Nitto ATP Finals champion gone on to beat Nadal in that 2022 Roland Garros semi-final and lift his first major crown, he would also have risen to No. 1 in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings for the first time. As his comeback season wore on, it was that sort of level the German began to rediscover.

Zverev backed up a return to the semi-finals at Roland Garros in July with a last-four appearance in Halle, before clinching his first title since the 2021 Nitto ATP Finals with his dream run at home in Hamburg. Subsequent semi-finals in Cincinnati and Beijing either side of a quarter-final appearance at the US Open, as well as his Chengdu triumph, were further evidence that the 26-year-old was back as a regular title-challenger.

“I’m playing good tennis and I’m winning tournaments again which is the most important thing,” Zverev said after his Chengdu victory. “I’m a contender. That’s something I missed at the beginning of the year, when I didn’t feel like I was. I’m back to the same mentality of winning tournaments and the same mentality of trying to be one of the best.”

And so to Turin, where Zverev enters the field as the only active player other than six-time champion Novak Djokovic to have won the prestigious season finale more than once. While he will be confident of improving his 12-8 Nitto ATP Finals match record and hopeful that he can add to his 2018 and 2021 titles, the German can reflect on a year of remarkable progress no matter how far he goes at the Pala Alpitour.

“It’s just the prestige to be there. You’re one of the best eight players in the world, so automatically you feel honoured to be at that event,” said Zverev. “The special thing about that tournament is that during normal weeks you have time to get into the matches, you have time to find your rhythm, find your game.

“There, you don’t. You play one of the best eight players in the world straightaway, from the first match, and that is the special part about it. I think that’s why all the players look forward to it and fight so hard to be there.”

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Zverev’s past Nitto ATP Finals experiences mean his confidence is unlikely to be dented too badly even if he falls to an early defeat in the round-robin stage in Turin. He lost his second group-stage match in London in 2018 and Turin in 2021, but bounced back with three straight wins each time to lift the trophy.

“Other tournaments, if I would have lost to Novak or Daniil [Medvedev], I would have been out, but there I came back and became a two-time champion,” said Zverev. “I think just enjoying the moment [is important]. Just being one of the best eight players in the world and being able to compete with them is something that I enjoy doing.

“It’s a prestige event, an honour itself just to be there, and I never take it for granted.”

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