Andy Murray does not lose to players ranked outside the top ten. He especially doesn’t lose in the fourth round of grand slam tournaments. The two-time Olympic hold medalist also never envisioned he would be slain by a man who was all the rage in the juniors when Murray stopped him many moons ago.
But with his first Australian Open victory looking destined with Novak Djokovic upset and a fading Roger Federer ahead of him Murray liked his chances. But a blast from the past in the form of Mischa Zverev, who channeled his inner John McEnroe with his relentless left-handed serve-and-volley game which evolved into a three and a half-hour demonstration on how pressure can rattle even the best players in 2017.
The question after Zverev’ 7-5, 5-7, 6-2,6-4 victory on the concrete was where has he been all this time. Well, the Russian born talent who represents Germany was kind of a big deal in junior tennis in the early 2000’s. In fact he was ranked third and the son of a former player Alexander Zverev Sr. which implied he had tennis pedigree from the start.
Zverev’s contemporaries included Alex Kuznetsov, Novak Djokovic and, you guessed it, Murray. In fact it was the Scotsman who stopped Zverev’s deepest run at the junior U.S. Open semi-finals. But Zverev left the junior division with a 123-50 record with greatness predicted for his future on the pro circuit when he entered it in 2006.
But the rocket came crashing down to earth, time and time again. There were two fractured ribs, tears in the patella tendon of his knee, herniated disc in the back and the clincher, a fractured wrist. All death for an effective tennis career.
He wanted to quit the sport. It seemed logical. But something ignited in the soul of Zverev watching his younger brother, Alexander, ten years his junior. He traveled with friends of the family during this period and as he healed his competitive juices flowed once more. “There were times when I just didn’t feel like working hard or playing because I wasn’t very successful,” said Zverev.
But there was a lot of gumption in Alexander, who resembled so much the junior terror he once had been. He returned but the results were awful. But surrounded by a family that practically toured with him everywhere Zverev could always draw strength from them in the dark days. Alexander refused to let him lie informing him that he could quit only when he does.
Last year there were signs that something was changing. At 29, Mischa was accomplishing things. His first ATP Challenger singles title in April. A win over No. 14 Nick Kyrgios and pushing then world No. 1 Novak Djokovic to the limit before losing in the quarterfinals in Shanghai, China. Then a semi-final appearance at the Swiss Indoors which included a win over No. 3 ranked Stan Wawrinka. It all were red flags to the elite in the tennis world if they took heed. They did not and the culmination was his win over the current world number one Murray.
The now 50th-ranked tennis player in the world had a plan for Murray. He needed something as the Glasgow born righty had never lost to Zverev. It was all or nothing. He would bring back the serve-and-volley game and press him hard. His 118 trips to the net were the proof of his commitment to set the pace of this game. He won 65 of those points. “I believed that playing serve and volley against him and slicing a lot, trying to destroy his rhythm was going to work, which it did in the end,” said Zverev.
Now he heads to the quarterfinals, the deepest grand slam foray he has ever attained against Roger Federer. Now Mischa can not only see the big picture, he can physically do something about it.
Add to that a brotherly nudge, he has the fire too. “Life can change so fast, especially in the tennis world,” said Zverev, “I proved to myself and everyone else that I can still work hard and play well. It all paid off and it was an amazing feeling.” A wonderful place to be in unless you are his future opponents.