Sascha Statement
Sports Illustrated India|December 2018

Alexander Zverev did not impress at Grand Slams this year but in a tournament that featured the eight best pros, he came up trumps.

S Karthik Iyer

ON THE PENULTIMATE day of the ATP Finals (November 11-18), Alexander Zverev was booed by spectators following his 7–5, 7–6 (5) victory over six-time champion Roger Federer; they had assumed he had indulged in gamesmanship at a crucial juncture in the tiebreaker. He had not. In fact, the German had only abided by the rules. When they shared an embrace at the net, Federer—still smiling—chided his younger adversary for apologising and congratulated him on a great match. “Buddy, shut up! You don’t need to apologise to me here,” the Swiss had reportedly said.

Of course, the audience hadn’t heard that. Neither were they aware of the rules. Young Sascha, though, was completely thrown off. He couldn’t respond properly to Annabel Croft during his on-court interview and was on the verge of tears, prompting Croft to admonish the crowd.

At 21, Sascha is part of what the ATP brand as “Next Gen” or “Next Generation.” The Tour (as is everyone else) is constantly seeking ways to identify and promote talent—ones who will not just challenge the celebrated, albeit ageing, Big Three but also take the sport forward. Held the week preceding the ATP Finals, the Next Gen ATP Finals—introduced in 2017 and staged in Milan—is a non-official season finale (prize purse of $1.275 million) for the eight best singles players aged 21-and-under. Zverev easily qualified for both editions but opted to withdraw each time. Why? Because he would play the ‘real deal’ in London the week after. Against the ‘big boys’; not an exhibition. Thus encapsulating just how good he is, when compared to the rest of his generation. At the time of qualification in 2017, he was ahead of Andrey Rublev—then aged 20, and the second-highest ranked next gen qualifier—by 3,271 ranking points. This year, the gap between him and 20-year-old Stefanos Tsitsipas was 2,990.

While Sascha had a not-so-memorable debut at the O2 Arena last year (eliminated after going 1–2 in round robin play), here he was now; one win away from hoisting the biggest title of his young career.

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