German tennis star Alexander Zverev has predicted that World No.1 Novak Djokovic of Serbia looks set to ‘break a few more records’ in the game.
Last month, Djokovic won his 22nd Grand Slam title at the Australian Open to tie with Rafael Nadal of Spain.
Yesterday, Djokovic, 35, drew level with German tennis queen Steffi Graf for most weeks at the top of tennis rankings. Djokovic started his 377th week at the top of the ATP Tour yesterday, the most by any male player.
Djokovic first rose to the top of world rankings in 2011. Currently he is ahead of second-placed Carlos Alcaraz of Spain.
Zverev, winner of two ATP Tour finals and a losing finalist at the 2020 US Open, yesterday seemed confident that Djokovic would go on to create new records.
“I’m sure that he’s going to break a few more records, to be honest. I’m not sure there are many left, but the ones that are left, maybe he will,” Zverev said yesterday on day one of the Qatar ExxonMobil Open where he is seeded three.
“I think over the last 10, 12 years he has absolutely dominated tennis. There is a reason why he’s been consistently at the top of the game,” Zverev, the singles gold medal winner at the 2022 Tokyo Olympic Games, said.
“That shows us with this record, from male or female tennis players, he’s going to be the most weeks at No. 1.
“He’s surpassing Steffi, so as a German, obviously I always loved her having that record, but credit to Novak. I think that shows how great he is,” the tall German said.
Last year, Zverev twisted his ankle in the semi-final against Nadal at the French Open and skipped the rest of the season to recover from the injury. The 25-year-old - who was recently diagnosed with diabetes - yesterday said he is moving in the right direction on fitness matters.
“When I’m pain-free I enjoy tennis a lot (smiles) but since June (2022) there have been a lot of times when that wasn’t the case. It took me a very long time to come back,” Zverev explained.
“I was still very limited to what I was able to do (in Australia last month). I was still not completely pain-free, not being able to move the way I wanted to move,” the German added. “It’s definitely going in the other direction now. Now I’m starting to really enjoy my time and also starting to find my form a little bit as well, which is a lot nicer because then you actually have a chance to win which, yeah, I enjoy.”
Zverev said the doubts in his mind about the injury have disappeared.
“No, I don’t have it in the back of my mind. A few weeks ago I used to still get signals from my foot. I used to, once in a while, still get pain. But it is in the right direction, and I feel like I can play pretty freely now,” Zverev said.
“I felt that way in Rotterdam (last week). I thought I played a lot better in Rotterdam than I did the previous weeks, even though I lost the second round, but I lost the second round to a very good player who played well that week,” he added.
“Obviously I’m looking forward to the next few weeks and hopefully it still gets progressively better in the right direction,” Zverev said.
“I think when I re-injured or got a new injury, that was when? September, I think. At that moment I thought I would maybe already be able to play, and then they (the doctors) told me, ‘no, it’s going to take another two, three months again’.
“That was, for me, a little bit tough mentally. I packed my bags and went on holiday. I didn’t do any rehab or anything like that again,” Zverev said.
“But at the same time, that helped me a lot, because I think my foot needed rest. I was trying very hard to come back, and maybe I did a little bit too much. That is in the past now, and hopefully we can look forward without any issues,” he said. Zverev said he still needs time to feel his old self again.
“I think for me it was all based on pain sometimes, what I could do, what I couldn’t do. When the pain is gone, it does take matches to be able to play at your best again, but that will take time. That will come with playing tournaments,” Zverev said yesterday.
“That’s why I’m here. That’s why I’m going to play as many tournaments as I can.
“But, yeah, for me, as I said, the last nine months now have been difficult, pain-wise and also what I was able to do, but again, that is in the past now, and I really want to look forward,” he added. Zverev, who has worked with Spanish coaches most of his career, said he has always been a demanding character on court.
“The mentality,” Zverev said when asked what he looked for in his coach’s approach to tennis. “I have said that a lot. I think working with me is sometimes not easy, because I demand a lot. I demand a lot from myself,” he added.
“I am an extremely hard-working person, in my opinion, when it comes to tennis, when it comes to the physical side of tennis, as well, when it comes to the gym work.
“I think there has to be a certain mentality of a coach to be able to handle that. I think maybe a lot of German coaches as well. I never worked with a German coach, but I know maybe the mentality does not fit me too well.
“Spanish coaches, whether it was David Ferrer, whether it’s Sergi (Bruguera) now, they fit perfectly. I always said I loved working with David.
“To be honest, I would have never stopped if it wouldn’t have been COVID at that time and the circumstances were not great for travelling, for him to come back to the family because he was also just retired from tennis.
“I think it’s a mentality of the coach and to be able to handle me, as well, to be honest,” he added.
Alexander Zverev of Germany stands next to a poster of himself during the first day of the 2023 Qatar ExxonMobil Open at Khalifa Tennis and Squash Complex in Doha on Monday.