Alexander Zverev was thoroughly outclassed by Daniil Medvedev in the Shanghai Masters final… but this is a first-world problem for Zverev.
Reaching the final felt like a victory after everything Zverev has been through this year.
No, it wasn’t Zverev’s “f***ing time!” to lift another big trophy, but Zverev built on his Beijing result with an even better display in Shanghai.
It might be too dramatic and excessive to call this a full restoration of his game — the proof of that will come next season, especially in Australia, Indian Wells, and Miami — but what Zverev clearly gained from Shanghai is the simple and profound benefit of seeing an aggressive game pay off.
No more standing 10 miles behind the baseline. No more joyless and prolonged slugging.
Zverev played proactive tennis, thumping the ball and pouring down aces on Roger Federer in a three-set win which marked the highlight of his week. Federer has constantly provided positive reinforcement for Zverev at Laver Cup and in other contexts, so beating Fed provides a very powerful form of affirmation for the German.
He didn’t merely beat a top-tier player; he beat the specific top-tier player who has told him personally that he can improve and overcome struggles.
Zverev has the talent to do great things on a tennis court; few would dispute this. The mind had to get out of the body’s way. Zverev’s off-court troubles — with other people making his life difficult — seemed to filter into his tennis.
In Shanghai, Zverev built a Great Wall of China, one could say, between the off-court storms and the on-court reality of professional performance.
Tennis needs to be fun, not a burden, for professionals to sustain high-quality results. Federer has shown this for a very long time.
Zverev might not do well in Bercy or the ATP Finals. In Shanghai, he might have realized that the previous week’s difficulties or other off-court complications don’t have to affect his tennis in the present moment.
If he does indeed make — and apply — that realization to his professional life, Zverev is headed for big things in 2020.
What a Zvery pleasant idea to consider.
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