Perhaps no more than 50 people watched Alexander Zverev clinch his second-round victory at this year’s Wimbledon. It was a misty middle Saturday, and while eventual champion Andy Murray was playing under a roof at Centre Court, rain delays had forced Zverev and his opponent, Russian veteran Mikhail Youzhny, to slog through their five-set battle over two days. Court 8 might have had a few more spectators that rainy afternoon if people had only known that this quiet nineteen-year-old is anticipated to be the biggest thing out of Germany (he’s a Hamburger) since Steffi Graf came up, long before Zverev was born.
“This, if you like, is the weakest Zverev we’ll ever see,” Roger Federer said after falling to him earlier this year. “He will only get better from here.” Justin Gimelstob, commentator and tennis-world Zelig, calls him “the most complete young talent we have on the ATP World Tour.” Zverev exhibits precision at the net, is admired for his work ethic and consistency, but can also come up with a 120 mph second serve. What’s more, his game translates to every surface. “He is a lock to be a star,” Gimelstob says.
In person, “Sascha” presents more like a college jock. At a lean six feet six he is unexpectedly graceful, like a giraffe. He has surfer hair (though he prefers wakeboarding) and, when we meet, could probably do with a shave. He more or less always wears three necklaces, one with the symbol of Aries, his zodiac sign, but he won’t reveal any more about them. “Not even he knows,” he says, gesturing toward Patricio Apey, his Chilean agent. (Apey ushered Murray into the big leagues a decade ago and plans to do the same with Zverev.)
Though Zverev has lived part-time in Florida since he was twelve—he is an expert on the Miami Heat—and is officially a resident of Monaco, his Russian parents moved to the Hamburg suburbs shortly after the Wall came down, and, in his words, he feels “more German than anything else.” Zverev also has what people in the sport call a pedigree: His father competed in the Davis Cup for the USSR, and his older brother Mischa is a touring professional currently ranked 146. “I wasn’t old enough to remember picking up my first racket,” Zverev says, “but I remember my brother winning his first title in Halle and knew I wanted to do that too.”
Zverev is not only the youngest player to crack the top 30 since Djokovic did so a decade ago, he is young even within his own generation. “Dominic [Thiem] is now top ten, so he’s leading the group,” Zverev says of the Austrian, who is a friend. “But he’s four years older. Nick [Kyrgios] is two years older than me. That’s a big difference at this age.” Thiem, who won all of his matches against Zverev thus far, also foresees great things: “Maybe it’s going be a nice rivalry.”
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