In June 2022, the German tennis pro Alexander Zverev experienced the darkest moment of his career. In the semifinals of the French Open in Paris against Rafael Nadal, the best German tennis player twisted his ankle badly. Seven ligaments tear in the ankle. The injury is so serious that Zverez needs surgery. Before deciding to have surgery, Zverev was plagued by deep doubts: "I was so scared that it was over for me at the level," he says about the moment in a documentary that is now available on RTL.
What made this event particularly dramatic from the point of view of the athlete and his environment is the timing. Born in Hamburg, he is in impressive form in June 2022. If he wins Paris, he will finally have the long-awaited first Grand Slam title and rise to number one in the world rankings. It would be another crowning achievement of his career: he is already a two-time world champion and Olympic champion, but he has not won one of the four major Grand Slam tournaments. Zverev remains "The Unfinished" to the present, as RTL somewhat pathetically titles the documentary. Usually athletes or teams that have passed the zenith of their creativity are called that. You can't say that about Zverev, 25 years old. He still has a large part of his career ahead of him. He has currently slipped to 15th place in the world rankings, but is fit and is playing tournaments again.
For the documentary, RTL accompanied the tennis pro for several weeks at his rehabilitation stations. They form the substantive bracket for a portrait in which Zverev gives a detailed insight into his life and personality. It's a heroic story, of course, but not only: it paints the picture of an athlete who comes from a tennis family and which is still the center of his life. Without father Alexander and mother Irina, themselves tennis players, "Sascha" would not have become what he is. "I played tennis before I could walk," says Zverev about the beginning. There was never anything else in Zverev's life, even though he used to play hockey and football as a child.
The injury and the fight for the comeback determine the present last summer. In one scene, Zverev, like any other patient, wants to know from the doctor whether the surgery is necessary and whether he will be one hundred percent fit again ("Yes" and "No one can guarantee that" are the answers). He asks several times. After the operation, he first has to wear an orthosis, a kind of ski boot, to protect the injured ankle. Then it's off to Donaustauf for rehabilitation. He follows his program with iron discipline, he wants to return to the tennis court as soon as possible. "I was always very, very proud of my thighs. They don't exist anymore," he once said during an exercise.
Zverev is driven by an irrepressible ambition, which the documentary also shows. But the unconditional will to show yourself and the world is at the same time a danger. He definitely wants to be fit again for the Davis Cup in his hometown of Hamburg. He loves this team competition, it's in his hometown and he wants to show the world he's fit again. He trains and at the same time ignores the increasing pain in his foot until it is no longer possible. At a press conference he has to explain his waiver. Edema has formed in the ankle, Zverev will no longer play a tournament in 2022. For him, this means another setback. He wanted too much too soon.
We don't just learn what drives Zverev from him. Numerous companions and family members provide information in front of the camera: mother Irina, brother Mischa (the father apparently did not want to be in front of the camera), girlfriend Sophia Thomalla, fitness coach Carlo Thränhardt (the former high jumper), professional colleague Dominic Thieme and tennis experts like him Journalist Matthias Stach.
They create a comprehensive picture of Zverev as a person: there is the sheltered childhood in Hamburg ("beautiful") and the teasing at the sports high school. The viewer learns about the diabetes that Zverev has suffered from since childhood. However, the illness does not prevent him from dedicating his life to tennis. His mother, who worked as a tennis coach in Hamburg, trains the talented child every day and teaches him the basics, while the father, a former tennis pro from the Soviet Union, accompanies older brother Mischa to tournaments. The family came to Germany in 1991. Girlfriend Sophia Thomalla chats about her relationship and lets her boyfriend film her on the beach in Monte Carlo, where the entire family now lives. When Zverev reported his greatest sporting triumph, winning the 2021 Olympic gold medal in Tokyo, tears welled up in his eyes. In the final he had beaten Novak Djokovic, number one at the time.
The documentary also reports on the allegation of domestic violence. In 2020, ex-girlfriend Olga Sharipova claimed that Zverev abused her several times during their relationship. Zverev vehemently denied the allegations. "I didn't understand what was happening," he says. He won a court case in Germany and the tennis organization ATP later closed its investigation. Nevertheless, he did not get rid of the allegations for a long time. More difficult for the ambiguous image that Zverez still has is that he used to lose his temper a few times on the pitch. It was particularly drastic in an incident in Acapulco. There he freaked out after losing in doubles and hit the referee's seat with a tennis racket. "That's probably the biggest mistake I'll ever make," says Zverev today. Girlfriend Thomalla reports that he was "incredibly ashamed". This is also part of the image of the "unfinished" that RTL traces in a way that is worth seeing.
The documentation has been available on RTL since March 18th.
Note: The star is part of RTL Germany