When Alexander Zverev left the French Open last year, it was in a wheelchair. He was in tears.
After tearing ligaments in his right ankle while running for a ball, Zverev was forced to retire in the semifinals to the eventual champion, Rafael Nadal. Zverev had hopes of winning his first major title after twice winning the ATP Finals and capturing a gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics. He was also the runner-up at the 2020 United States Open.
Zverev has faced plenty of adversity, much of it self-inflicted. A public feud with a former agent over money was settled out of court. Allegations of domestic abuse by a former girlfriend dogged him for about two years, prompting an investigation by the ATP, which eventually found no substantial evidence of the claims. And after throwing an on-court tantrum following a doubles loss last year, Zverev was fined $40,000 and put on 12 months of probation for “unsportsmanlike conduct.”
Yet Zverev remains one of the most diligent workers on tour.
The following interview has been edited and condensed.
You are known for your physical strength on court. But the game is mental, too. Which is harder for you?
I always feel like when I do the work, I am mentally prepared as well. Once I’ve done everything I can to be ready to win, there’s nothing to be nervous about. If you don’t play well, you don’t play well. Sometimes things happen out of your control in any sport, especially in tennis because it’s a singular sport.
You’ve been super competitive since you were a child. How much of that has helped you on the ATP Tour?
I hated losing. That has helped me because when somebody younger or better was coming up, I tried to outwork them. When I work more than everybody else, I’m going to be better than everybody else. Which isn’t always the right thing. I’ve learned that with age.
Everybody talks about your father’s influence on your game, but wasn’t it your mother who taught you technique?
She had a bigger effect on me than my dad did, because she was the one who taught me the game from a young age. More people talk about my father because he’s my true coach now, along with Sergi Bruguera. But my mother had a much bigger influence than my father.
Of all the men you’ve beaten — Nadal, Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic, Daniil Medvedev — who is the most difficult?
They all have their own difficulty. When Rafa’s playing well on clay, he’s unbeatable. I’ve played Novak on a lot of surfaces, but when he is in the zone, he is also very difficult. With Roger, everything just happens so fast. You feel like you’ve just started the match, and you’re already down a set and a break, and you have absolutely no idea how it happened. Medvedev just doesn’t miss. It doesn’t matter what position in the court you put him in, he’s always going to put the ball back, so you have to win the matches yourself. And Carlos Alcaraz, with him it’s obviously the power. You honestly can’t name one that is most difficult.
With everything you’ve been through over the last several years, from your personal problems to your injury, what’s the most important thing you’ve learned about yourself?
When you’re young, you’re naïve. You think everybody’s your best friend, that they’re there because they really like you. But tennis is a business, which, unfortunately, is not always the nicest thing in the world. I have a very close circle. I don’t let people in that much anymore. I only have people who I truly 100 percent trust. I had to learn to go into myself, to get the noise out of my head to be able to compete.
What about this game gives you the greatest joy?
It’s that you’re really you. You win by yourself, you lose by yourself. You can’t hide behind your teammates. A lot of players say they play for the money and they don’t really love tennis. I’m somebody who absolutely loves what I do. I can’t imagine doing anything else. For me, there’s no better life.