To say that these are heady days for Germany's Alexander "Sascha" Zverev may be putting it mildly. The 20-year-old has moved into an exhilarating phase in his career, a time of extraordinary growth as a match player, a period when he seems to be exploring avenues in his game that he never knew existed. Zverev has achieved prolifically this season, winning five tournaments while knowing there will be so many more opportunities to come, demonstrating that he is the most stable, self assured and determined of all the young players with remarkable long term potential, proving that no one in his age bracket can match his pride or surpass his professionalism. Zverev will surely establish himself over the next couple of years as the best player in the world. He will eventually capture multiple major titles. He will celebrate success on a very lofty level.
For the time being, however, Zverev should pause briefly and try to appreciate what he is currently doing and the way he has broken down barriers all across 2017. Think about his tall achievements. Zverev won his first title of the year on indoor hard courts in Montpellier, France. During the spring, he was twice victorious at clay court events, ruling in Munich, coming through in Rome as well for his first Masters 1000 crown. Over the last couple of weeks, he has been unstoppable, taking the hard court tournament in Washington on hard courts, following up on Sunday with a triumph at the Coupe Rogers Masters 1000 hard court crown in Montreal.
So Zverev has established himself as the first man outside of the "Big Four" to win multiple Masters 1000 tournaments in a season since David Nalbandian did it back in 2007. He soundly defeated a compromised Roger Federer in the Montreal final 6-3, 6-4 with a stellar performance. Zverev never lost his serve and was utterly dominant from the backcourt against the Swiss Maestro. To be sure, Federer was visibly and significantly hurt by the middle of the second set, when he no longer could extend on his serve and his mobility was considerably diminished. That was a shame for the fans who were hoping to see Federer raise both his game and his intensity down the stretch.
The fact remains that, regardless of when Federer's body let him down and caused him obvious discomfort, Zverev had established himself from the outset as the better player. He was driving through the ball beautifully off both sides. His forehand—for so long his more vulnerable wing—was humming off his racket. His consistency off that side was strikingly evident. Zverev's two-handed backhand—always his strong suit—was hit with outstanding pace, depth and precision. His potency from the back of the court overwhelmed Federer in many of the rallies.
The Zverev serve, meanwhile, was outstanding. His second delivery was devastatingly powerful and unfailingly deep. It was so good that it seemed as if he was producing two first serves. Despite blasting that second serve with astounding velocity and devilish spin time and again, the German double faulted only once in the match. Meanwhile, the 6'6" competitor with the wide wing span returned stupendously long before it was apparent that Federer was hurting. All in all, Zverev was simply phenomenal, and even a completely healthy Federer would have been hard pressed to beat him.
The first couple of games were crucial as both players had their chances. Zverev was up 40-15 on his serve as the match commenced, but Federer struck back boldly with a backhand winner down the line followed by a forehand return sent so deep and accurately that Zverev was caught off guard and unable to respond. At deuce, Federer drew Zverev in with one of his trademark short, blocked returns. Zverev dug it out and went down the line off the backhand. Federer had no play but the ball was called out. The German challenged that call and was vindicated; his shot had clipped the outer edge of the sideline.
By the thinnest of margins, Zverev had garnered a third game point. Federer was quietly disgruntled, shaking his head incredulously as he moved into position to return serve from the ad court. Zverev took that point with a high forehand volley winner. That was a critical hold for Zverev, who had fallen behind early and never recovered in his last appointment with Federer in the final of Halle two months earlier. The Swiss won that one 6-1, 6-3. Now, after his opponent had held on narrowly in this Montreal meeting, Federer found himself in precarious territory. Ahead 30-0 in the second game of the match, he lost the next three points on a forehand winner from Zverev, a double fault from the Swiss and a sweetly struck forehand passing shot from the German that was unmanageable for Federer.
It was break point for Zverev, but he squandered his opportunity. Having slugged it out comfortably with his opponent as they went forehand to forehand, Zverev finally got the backhand he wanted after Federer altered the pattern of the point and went down the line. But Zverev missed inexplicably off his two-hander. An unstoppable first serve down the T and an excellent second serve kicker in the ad court enabled Federer to hold on tenuously for 1-1.
Zverev held at love for 2-1 and went right back to work in search of another opening for a break. He found it immediately. After Federer rallied from 0-30 to 30-30, Zverev advanced to 30-40 with a deadly two-hander down the line that Federer could not handle off his forehand side on the stretch. On break point, Zverev was assertive and unwavering, pulling Federer off the court with a heavy forehand. Federer could only defend, but Zverev did not hesitate, refusing to let the ball bounce. He moved into a backhand swing volley, sent it crosscourt and followed that shot in. Federer was hurried into a passing shot error off the backhand. Zverev had the break for 3-1. From 15-15 in the fifth game, he was magnificent, releasing an ace out wide, an unanswerable first delivery down the T, and then another booming first serve down the T that set up a backhand winner.
Zverev had held convincingly at 15 for 4-1. Federer closed the cap to 4-2 at the cost of only one point, and then pursued a break at full force. Zverev trailed 15-30 in the seventh game, but Federer faltered off the backhand on the next two points. At 40-30, the Swiss challenged the German with a short chipped return, but the big man responded with a backhand down the line drop shot winner. On to 5-2 went Zverev after that run of three consecutive points. Federer held at love in the eighth game but now Zverev served for the set at 5-3. He swiftly built a 30-0 lead, but lost the next point in frustrating fashion. Zverev cracked a 132 MPH second serve to the backhand. Federer directed a chipped backhand return deliberately short, and a flummoxed Zverev chipped a forehand approach wide. Another chipped return from the Swiss elicited a netted forehand from the German, and so it was 30-30.
Zverev was two points from taking the set but Federer had given him cause for some consternation. Yet Zverev thundered a first serve down the T at 134 MPH, and Federer had no chance. At 40-30, another crackling first serve to the backhand sealed the set for Zverev. Federer did not come close on the return.
Having secured that set 6-3 with little hesitation, Zverev realized that Federer would automatically and wholeheartedly make a concerted push to change the complexion of the contest at once. The 36-year-old imposed himself, holding at love for 1-0 in the second set, reaching break point thrice in the second game. Zverev was too good on all three. He saved the first with a terrific body serve that stymied Federer, erased the second with a penetrating crosscourt forehand that drew an errant forehand from Federer on the run, and cancelled the third with an ace down the T, holding on sedulously for 1-1.
Federer had competed with quiet fury in those first two games of the second set. Thereafter, he seemed vulnerable physically. At 1-1, Federer saved one break point with an ace down the T and a second when Zverev marginally missed a backhand down the line pass. Federer held on for 2-1, but needed some good fortune to get out of that game. Zverev surged to 2-2 with a hold at love, making every first serve in that game. Despite a double fault in the fifth game, Federer held at 30 for 3-2, but not with conviction. Zverev held on at 30 for 3-3.
Serving in the seventh game, Federer was plainly in physical jeopardy. His ground game was untidy. His back arch on the serve was nonexistent. He could not extend or use his legs on that serve in anything like his normal manner. Zverev broke at 15 for 4-3 and then held at love for 5-3 with a backhand winner up the line. The German had swept 12 of 15 points from 2-3 down to put himself within striking distance of victory.
Federer held one last time for 4-5, but Zverev was surely thinking about serving the match out. He poured in four first serves in a row, opening that game with a forehand crosscourt winner before benefitting from a cluster of forehand mistakes from Federer. Zverev held at love to complete a 6-3, 6-4 triumph. Federer's unmistakable injury was a factor, but the in-form Zverev was going to be awfully tough to beat under any circumstances.
That Zverev was even in a position to take the title was notable in and of itself. Having come straight from winning Washington, he had a first round bye in Montreal but then faced the Frenchman Richard Gasquet. Zverev was confident after succeeding the previous week but he was fatigued both physically and mentally, or so it seemed. After splitting the first two sets, Zverev served for the match at 5-4 in the third set. He rolled to 40-0, triple match point in his favor. But somehow he relaxed too much, making a loose error off the forehand, netting a forehand pass down the line and playing a drop volley that sat up for Gasquet to rip a winning backhand passing shot into the clear. Gasquet connected with a winning forehand down the line return and then Zverev erred off the backhand.
Gasquet had improbably broken back for 5-5. He held for 6-5 and reached 15-40 and double match point on Zverev's serve in the twelfth game. The Frenchman chipped a return long and then Zverev survived a riveting 49 stroke rally, concluding that point with a forehand winner. Gasquet promptly earned a third match point but netted a forehand slice off an aggressive backhand down the line from Zverev.
The German held on courageously for 6-6 with a backhand down the line winner and an ace. He proceeded to win a final set tie-break 7-3, taking the match 6-3, 4-6, 7-6. He followed with straight set victories over Nick Kyrgios and Kevin Anderson, and then confronted the tournament sensation, wildcard Denis Shapovalov. The 18-year-old Canadian had won a couple of Challenger events earlier this season, but his match record on the ATP World Tour was 1-5, including first round losses at Roland Garros and Wimbledon. He realized how critical this wildcard in Montreal could be if he managed to exploit it.
He did that, and then some. In a first round clash against the Brazilian Rogerio Dutra Silva, however, Shapovalov nearly was hustled right out of the tournament. Down a set in that meeting, Shapovalov was on the brink of defeat in the second set tie-break. Four times in that dramatic sequence, the teenager was down match point, but his poise under immense pressure was breathtaking. The precocious left-hander saved the first one by approaching the net forcefully, forcing his adversary to loft a lob long. Shapovalov cast aside the second match point with a nifty backhand drop volley winner, erased the third with a running backhand down the line that drew an error, and served an ace down the T to escape on the fourth match point. He won the match joyously 4-6, 7-6 (8), 6-4.
Now the 18-year-old accounted for 2009 U.S. Open champion Juan Martin del Potro in straight sets to set up a round of 16 appointment against Rafael Nadal. Nadal was furious at himself for not winning this all-lefty encounter. The Spaniard never looked comfortable from the baseline as he took on Shapovalov in front of a highly charged evening crowd in Montreal. Nadal won the first set, battled back from 1-4 and break points down in the second to reach 4-4, and looked set to close out the account when Shapovalov served at 0-30 in the ninth game.
But consecutive aces brought the Canadian back to 30-30. An inside out forehand winner made it 40-30 and he held on with a cagey body serve that provoked an errant return from Nadal. The Spaniard played apprehensively in the next game, double faulting for 15-15, making a forehand unforced error for 30-30. After Shapovalov drilled a forehand crosscourt winner for 30-40, the young player got away with a miss-hit return that landed very short near the sideline and coaxed an error from Nadal.
It was one set all. All through the third set, Nadal was poised to break, but he never did. The Spaniard had six break points spread out over three different service games, but he was always uptight. The two players fought their way into a final set tie-break. Nadal led 3-0, only to miss a routine backhand crosscourt. Shapovalov served an ace. Nadal double faulted. It was 3-3. Although Nadal took the next point for 4-3, he never won another. Most damagingly, he pressed flagrantly and netted a forehand when trailing 4-5. Shapovalov came through 3-6, 6-4, 7-6 (4). He then came from behind again to oust Adrian Mannarino 2-6, 6-3, 6-4.
After all of that, after recording four victories to reach the semifinals, after turning the tournament upside down in so many ways, Shapovalov returned to planet earth. but not before giving Zverev a decent test. A double fault at 4-4 and break point down cost him the first set. Down a break immediately in the second set, Shapovalov broke back for 1-1 in the second, and moved ahead 4-3 and 0-40 on Zverev's serve. The German captured five points in a row to hold on gamely, and eventually pulled through 6-4, 7-5. But Shapovalov showed that he has a knack for navigating his way through tough matches. His ground game is formidable, and he mixes up his serve adroitly. He comes forward naturally but needs to improve his volley. In short order, that will happen. This ambitious individual has now climbed to No. 67 in the world.
The next order of business for Sascha Zverev will be making his presence known at the majors. His best showing yet at a Grand Slam tournament was reaching the round of 16 this year at Wimbledon, but surely he will surpass that at the upcoming U.S. Open. Over the next couple of years, we should see him often on the last weekend at the premier tournaments. Sooner rather than later, he will win his first major. Once that happens, Zverev will be a habitual contender when it counts the most.