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Australian Open – After his injury, Alexander Zverev faces such a long road

Alexander Zverev again became a tennis player. But he did not become Alexander Zverev again. Six months after his terrible foot injury during his Roland-Garros semi-final at the beginning of June, the Olympic champion returned to the courts in two stages, first during the Diriyah Cup, the exhibition organized at the end of December in Saudi Arabia, then officially at the United Cup in Australia. It’s good to see him again on the courts, but this pleasure was quickly doubled by an obvious fact: it will take time, a lot of time, to appear again among the players who matter.

Zverev played two singles during the United Cup, for two very severe defeats, against the young Czech Jiri Lehecka, 81st in the world (6-4, 6-2), then against a size, Taylor Fritz, member of the Top 10 ( 6-1, 6-4). He hung on, did what he could, but his lack of rhythm, and even of coordination on serve, gave the impression at times of seeing a player starting from scratch. Happy to be there, he savors the simple pleasure of having found his place, but he measures without hiding the path to be travelled.

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I have to get used to some things again

In terms of feeling, it was finehe admitted after his defeat against Lehecka. But my tennis is very far from the level I would like. Physically, I am not at the level that was mine. There is not even a debate. I feel that I am getting tired much faster than before. I’m probably not that fast either. I have to get used to some things again.”

This is neither shameful, nor surprising, nor catastrophic. It’s a game of patience in which Sascha Zverev will take part in the next few weeks, perhaps in the next few months. “Does this worry me? Probably not, he tempered after the United Cup. I guess those are normal things when you haven’t played for almost seven months. It is an inevitable consequence. To be honest, I’ve only been able to play for two or three weeks without feeling any pain. Before that, the pain was there and it prevented me from doing what I wanted on the court.

Alexander Zverev at the United Cup in 2023

Credit: Getty Images

The real question concerning him is in the long term: can he fully regain the level that was his when he was stopped short on the Philippe-Chatrier court? “To merecalls Mats Wilander, he was not far from being the best player in my worldof.” Even if these are two different things, the purely mathematical logic of the ranking would have in all likelihood installed him during the summer in the first place in the world. One thing is certain, he was on a trajectory globally ascending and his last victory to date, against Carlos Alcaraz in the quarter-finals at Roland-Garros, was also one of the most convincing of his career.

I don’t see Zverev coming back and winning the bet like that overnight

And now ? The German faces a triple problem: physical, psychological and tennis. He does not fully master the first. Yes, you can come back to the fore after an injury. But others, like Dominic Thiem, never really recovered. Of course, it all depends on the nature of the problem. Of course, a Nadal or a Federer triumphed at the Australian Open, in 2017 and 2022, coming back from a one-semester absence. But that would be asking too much of Zverev.

We talk about superstars among superstars for those who have managed to accomplish thisunderlines John McEnroe to Eurosport. Normality is not that. It’s needing time to regain feelings and confidence. I don’t see Zverev coming back and winning like this overnight and I think that in his clan it will be important to set progressive goals.” How long ? “I think it will probably take him four or five months to become an athlete again, judge Wilander. This is a six-month injury during which he was unable to kick the ball at all.”

Rafael Nadal comforts Alexander Zverev after his heavy fall in the semi-finals of Roland-Garros 2022

Credit: Getty Images

The state of mind of the double winner of the Masters will also be essential. His ability not to get frustrated or discouraged, to admit that time will make him feel like his enemy first and not his ally. Then this question: will he have taken advantage of this accident to find the right distance from his career? “Sometimes hurt can be a chancerelève Mats Wilander. A break like this is the opportunity to take a break, to gain height, to have a different perspective. He can say to himself ‘OK, wait, I was an Olympic champion, I won the Masters twice, I was world No. 2, I had an incredible career if it had to stop there’ and it can help you understand what you really want, and how you want to become a better player?

Which player does he want to become again?

Which brings us to the last point. If he recovers all of his physical means and if he does not give in to panic or a lasting crisis of confidence, what direction will Alexander Zverev give to his game? The question was just as valid seven months ago before his injury, but he won’t save it in the long run if the two prerequisites mentioned above are met.

I want to believe that what happened to Sascha Zverev can make him a better tennis playerWilander pleaded. That’s what he should focus on. I would like to see him become even more aggressive. Everything will depend on his state of mind and his motivation in this area. Will it allow him to get better results than before? I don’t know and I understand that, from the outside, we judge whether someone is progressing only according to their results. But with age, and the hindsight that is his now, I think he could take that direction. But obviously, for the moment, he especially needs youmps.”

Alexander Zverev clearly does not have that luxury at the moment. It is not to tackle questions of philosophy of play, but to rebuild. His return to the circuit was a huge step forward. The most spectacular. Every step that awaits him now will be less and less impressive. But it is those who will bring him closer, more or less quickly, to who he was. It will then be time to find out who he wants to be in the next phase of his career. Today, he would already be happy to take a lap or two in Melbourne.

Will Alexander Zverev get back to his best?

Credit: Getty Images

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