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Alexander Zverev: On The Way To Number One?

Alexander Zverev won the most important titles outside of the Grand Slams in 2021. He now wants to tackle this goal. What are his chances in the next tennis year?

Alexander Zverev looked relaxed and exuberant as he hadn't for many months when he came to the final talk of the ATP Masters Finals. 

He had just defeated the Russian Daniil Medvedev (25) in the unofficial tennis World Cup, the Masters Finals, clearly in two sets and won this tournament for the second time since 2018.

After a long season in which he played 74 games and became Olympic champion in Tokyo, he had once again defeated world number one (Novak Đjoković in the semifinals) and second (Medvedev) at this most important tournament outside of the Grand Slams. Andre Agassi was last successful 31 years ago.

It goes without saying that the German was in the mood to joke and, before the second question at the press conference, demanded that the Champions League-like pot be placed in front of him. His grin grew wider then. Only once did his expression become more serious despite the successful end of the year after a year that was not always easy for him - with the question that was probably the most obvious question after this tennis year:

What does the future of men's tennis look like?

At the end of the day, Novak Đjoković won three Grand Slams this year. He was more dominant than Medvedev and more dominant than me. That's just the way it is and we don't need to gloss over it

His generation must continue to make the best of this special situation and try everything to challenge the Serbs at the major tournaments. Zverev clearly stated: Đjoković (34) just missed the calendar Grand Slam in 2021 with victories in Melbourne , Paris, London and New York; again he has set the standards. Only he did not win the US Open and the Olympic tournament, where he was defeated by Medvedev and Zverev.

In the absence of the injured Nadal (35) and Federer (40), he drew the same number of major titles. The trio now has 20 outrageous Grand Slam titles each. And this record race will continue in 2022.

What are Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer doing?

You are used to longer breaks and physically strong comebacks from Nadal. The Mallorcan has already announced his return for the Australian Open and has been training for weeks in his home in Manacor, undisturbed by the public. 

He can be expected in January at the Australian Open, but at the latest at the French Open in Paris. The Spaniard has won the most important sandpit event in the world an unbelievable thirteen times since 2005. When Nadal's first triumph, Zverev was just eight years old.

The situation is more difficult with the most famous tennis professional. Roger Federer had to eighteen months injury break at Wimbledon celebrated his comeback and at the tender age of professional athletes almost 40 years after all the rounds last reached the night.

At the beginning of last week he gave the western Swiss newspaper 24 heuresbut a very honest interview about his physical and mental state. "My world will not collapse if I never reach a Grand Slam final again. But it is my stated goal to return one last time. And I do believe in a comeback," said Federer. He believes in miracles and has seen them before. For example his last major title in Melbourne in 2017 and 2018, when he also came back from serious injuries.

Đjoković remains the fixed point

But the re-operation on the meniscus that he had to undergo was a major one. It was not only about getting fit for the tennis court again, but also, according to his own statement, about maintaining the quality of life after the career. A return before Wimbledon, i.e. July 2022, is unrealistic. And even that is not certain. He would then be almost 41 years old. He has just put his crutches down and wants to go back to the training ground in the spring. It is more uncertain than ever whether he will ever return competitively.

There is still one left for Zverev, Medwedew, the two Italians Jannik Sinner, Matteo Berrettini and the other players in the twenties with contact to the world's best: Đjoković is and will currently be their fixed point. If he competes, he is the one to beat.

But it is not yet clear whether the world number one, who will top the list for the seventh time at the end of the year in 2021 and thus overtake Pete Sampras, will also be in Australia. Just last week, the Australian government confirmed that only those fully vaccinated against the coronavirus are allowed to play. Đjoković has left his vaccination status open in several interviews to protect his privacy - and last week in Turin he repeated at length how important freedom of expression is to him. 

After the Australian decision was made, he said curtly that he had not spoken to those responsible beforehand. Will he take part? "We will see."

Đjoković fights like no other doggedly for records on the tour. He will not end his long season now and will fight for the next title for Serbia in the Davis Cup final next week. Even at the age of 34, he is still one of the fittest players and emphasized in Turin that he wanted to play for several more years. So tennis fans don't have to worry about losing all three big players in a very short time.

Because the panic before Federer, Nadal and Đjoković has been huge in the scene for years. Not, of course, with those who follow them. Daniil Medvedev told after the ATP final on Sunday: "My trainer laughs a bit at this topic. When Björn Borg and John McEnroe were about to step down, everyone said: Ok, you can forget tennis, we never will to have such great players again. Of course we had great players again: Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi."  

When the careers of the two Americans were over, "the big three suddenly appeared. In between there were exactly the same discussions and in 2021 it will just happen again. Tennis is and will remain a great sport. I don't think it's our generation something will be missing, "says the Russian. "Of course, none of us will probably win 20 Grand Slams - even if nobody knows exactly. Nobody thought it was possible before the three. But if we end up with fewer titles, like the generations before, it certainly isn't Shame."

Will the ATP manage digital change?

He has had one since summer 2021, Alexander Zverev is still missing the big Grand Slam victory. He therefore promised: "I can only say one thing. I will do everything that is asked of me and that is in my power and I will rip my ass so that it happens in 2022. I cannot influence anything else."

But the ATP tour is not only accompanied by the debate about the sporting future. They slept through the digital development and thus the contact to a young target group for a long time. After some good approaches on the streaming platform Twitch, the ATP failed to establish its own channel to advertise tennis to the young target group . After all, the new ATP boss Andrea Gaudenzi has announced that he now wants to present tennis more digitally. He sees Formula 1 as a role model, which gained new fans years ago with a re-branding and is also very present on Twitch and YouTube. Gaudenzi announced that a documentary was being worked on behind the scenes, based on the Formula 1 Netflix documentary Drive to Survive.

There was another tentative attempt with ATP winner Alexander Zverev: The TikTok influencer Khaby Lame, who has an unbelievable 121 million followers on the short video platform, accompanied the ATP finals throughout the week. The professionals got involved. So tennis can also work on this platform. And last but not least, the tennis year 2021 proved: There are enough stories to tell.

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