Things were lining up almost too perfectly. Alexander Zverev played inspired tennis to take out Carlos Alcaraz in the quarterfinal of the Australian Open. He then watched Jannik Sinner systematically end Novak Djokovic's reign down under.
Following this good fortune, he went out and played some gutsy, high-level tennis to take a two sets to none lead on Daniil Medvedev. Even in the third set tiebreak, he was two points from the victory and two points away from reaching his second career Grand Slam final.
And yet, here I am writing what feels like an op-ed piece on his future chances at winning one of these prestigious events. In this piece, I am not looking at anything away from the game for Zverev. My focus is purely on the court and what this devastating loss could mean going forward. A hint, it's not very good.
This is not to say that he won't be able to make another deep run at a major. His talent is still clearly capable of carrying him to this stage again. However, having things line up so perfectly outside of his own game? That might not come around again anytime soon.
Can Alexander Zverev bounce back from latest brutal loss?
The two heavy favorites (Djokovic and Alcaraz) are out, and he would have faced a first-time Grand Slam finalist in Sinner, albeit a player in scintillating form, in the final. If he had been able to close out Medvedev, he would have gone into that match also playing the best tennis of his life as well. It absolutely would have been a toss-up and he might have been a slight favorite based on his previous experience in a big final.
This is now the third time where it looked like Zverev was ascending at a Grand Slam and he looked likely to finally get over the hurdle. The first came during the COVID pandemic when he reached the 2020 US Open final. In that match, he jumped out to another two sets to none lead over Dominic Thiem. It was not the highest quality match, but Zverev could still smell the finish line. As it happened, the moment became too big for him once again and he clearly felt the pressure and crumbled. It was tough to watch in the moment and going back now.
The other Grand Slam moment I'm thinking of is the 2022 French Open. At that time, Zverev was playing the absolute best tennis of his life. Like in the Australian Open, he also dispatched Carlos Alcaraz in the quarterfinal stage.
In the semifinal, he was going toe-to-toe with the King of Clay, Rafa Nadal, on his favorite court. The level in that match was something to behold, and even though Nadal took the first set in a breaker, Zverev pushed him to another tiebreak in the second.
Then, he destroyed his ankle and everything changed. There is no guarantee he would have won that match. But to have the moment snatched away like that was hard to take.
He was on the verge of becoming the ATP No. 1. He was about to reach the pinnacle of his career before it all vanished in a flash.
All credit to Zverev for battling back from the brutal injury after 6 months away from the game. The fact he was even back to this level is something he can be immensely proud of. At 26 years old, Zverev has won ATP 250s, ATP 500s, Masters 1000s, and the ATP Finals.
Yet, the ultimate prize in this sport continues to elude him. It feels like the better he plays and the closer he gets, the goalposts get moved and he falls short. Whether or not you are a fan of him away from the court, looking at it from a sporting perspective there has to at least be some empathy.
Again, his career is not over. He very well could go on and win multiple Slams. But on this day, this week, this tournament, he absolutely let a golden opportunity pass him by.
It will take another herculean effort from him to get beyond this and move forward. The first event he plays after this will be a fascinating watch to see where his mental makeup is. He is one of the very best tennis players on earth. But sometimes that still isn't enough. Zverev was taught that harsh lesson once again. It's time to respond one more time.