For tennis fans, December is the worst month of the year. With the season over and zero tournaments to be played, we are left with Tennis Channel marathons, exhibitions and opportunities to look back at the biggest moments of the 2022 season.
The one benefit of the month is we have the proper time to recap and break down all the results we’ve seen for the past 11 months. In turn, we can begin to make assumptions as to how 2023 will turn out based on a large sample size.
With that in mind, we’re targeting five players for what we’re calling our “2023 Dropshot Network Player Files.” These five players represent the most intriguing of the upcoming season — based on how their 2022’s went and how their storylines project for the season to come.
We already took a look at Holger Rune, Taylor Fritz and Nick Kyrgios, so now it’s time to dive into Alexander Zverev.
Notable 2022 Results
Before tearing several ligaments in his foot during his semifinal French Open matchup against Rafael Nadal, Zverev was producing an impressive season. The German was 29-10 on the year, reaching the semifinals in Rome, the final in Madrid, the semifinals in Monte Carlo and the quarters in Miami.
That was in addition to the aforementioned run at Roland Garros, where Zverev beat Carlos Alcaraz in four sets and was playing Nadal extremely tight before suffering the injury.
But it wasn’t the results that were most positive takeaway from Zverev’s season; it was actually his mental toughness. One of the biggest issues for the German so far in his career has been his inability to close out matches, perform at a high standard in clutch situations and win on the big stage consistently.
That looked to be a thing of the past in 2022, especially in Paris, where he truly looked capable of winning a Grand Slam for one of the first times in his career.
Zverev attempted to make a comeback late in the season at the Davis Cup, but suffered a setback.
The State of Zverev Entering 2023
That last paragraph ended negatively, but it’s all positivity and optimism for Zverev and his camp heading into 2023.
The 25-year-old is fully healthy again, as he’s playing exhibition matches to get himself ready for the new season in January. In fact, Zverev just beat Novak Djokovic in straight sets in the World Tennis League in Dubai.
Again, this is an exhibition, so there’s not too much to truly take away from the performance, but nonetheless, it’s a positive sign that he’s heading in the right direction.
The biggest question for Alex revolves around his mental toughness. We know that issue seemed much improved in 2022, but after suffering such a devastating injury (he had to be taken off the court in a wheelchair), there are always questions as to if he’ll revert to old ways.
Another concern is how long it takes to compete and return to a high level on the tour. We’ve seen Dominic Thiem return from a serious injury and fail to get back to the form he was previously at. Now, his injury is much different because of the location (wrist), but Zverev (foot) relies heavily on his athleticism and court coverage. If he’s even a little bit hesitant, that will impact his outlook.
But like I mentioned above, Zverev looks solid in his exhibitions, and it’s actually a positive for him that the tour is currently in its “offseason.” He has time to gain confidence without any true pressure or media attention.
If Zverev stays healthy, returns to form and puts the mental toughness concerns behind him, I expect the German to compete at Grand Slams in 2023. Just look at these highlights.
Where Does Zverev Stand in Pecking Order?
This question is tough to answer because we won’t truly know Zverev’s form until he starts playing consistent ATP matches.
Regardless, for the fun of this exercise, I’m going to say that Zverev doesn’t have any problems returning and he continues to build upon the momentum he built last spring.
Right now, my personal opinion is that Novak Djokovic and Carlos Alcaraz are in a tier of their own as the best players in tennis. But I think a healthy and in-form Zverev is in that next tier with Daniil Medvedev, Casper Ruud, Stefanos Tsitsipas and Rafael Nadal (who I think is borderline because of age, injuries and the eye test).
I’m going to give out my “pound-and-pound best players in tennis” rankings before the new season, however, I think Zverev is the biggest question mark in that pack of players mentioned above. He has an extremely high ceiling, but also an incredibly low floor.
And that’s why he’s apart of this player series at Dropshot Network — because how he plays over the first couple of months could drastically impact not only his own career moving forward, but the future of the entire ATP Tour.
What Tournaments Mean Most to Zverev?
Zverev has accomplished a lot so far in his career, but Grand Slams have been a thorn in his side. While he’s reached the semifinals of both the Aussie Open and the French Open, and the final of the US Open, he hasn’t been able to breakthrough yet.
When tennis fans argue about Zverev’s greatness, that’s the No. 1 point they throw out there — his inability to win the “big one.”
So, Zverev is obviously going to be extra focused in Australia, France, London and New York. I think his best shot is at Roland Garros, but again, form is going to be a huge factor. The US Open is not until August, and that gives Alex many more matches to build up his game.
Even though the Grand Slams will be a major focus for Zverev “haters” and fans, it’s the first few events of the year that may define his season.
That means the Aussie swing is massive and Indian Wells and Miami will be important as well.
Keep an eye on January-to-March for Zverev.
Conclusion to Zverev
The German seemed like he was ready to take the next step in his career in 2022 before suffering a disastrous injury at Roland Garros.
There are so many question marks in regards to Zverev and how he’ll perform in the new season, but the bottom line is he has the greatest chance of any player on tour of changing the dynamic of the rankings and Grand Slams based on his potential and experience.
Regardless, it’s good to see Zverev back, and the hope is he doesn’t suffer another injury moving forward.