Alexander Zverev stroked his tousled hair three times, congratulated his opponent on the net and looked down. The first official tournament of the Olympic champion ended with a little humiliation after his serious foot injury.
Instead of leading the German tennis team to their premiere triumph in the new United Cup, Zverev started the preliminary round with two individual defeats. Above all, the 1: 6, 4: 6 in Sydney against the American Taylor Fritz, who is superior in all respects, causes disillusionment with a view to the Australian Open, which begins in two weeks.
Zverev himself had warned against too high expectations at the first Grand Slam tournament of the year before the game against Fritz. "It would be unrealistic and pretty stupid for me to expect to win or anything," said the 25-year-old. Of course he will try to win his first major tournament, but the main goal is different this time: "For me it's about getting back to my usual form."
Game rhythm is missing
His appearances at the United Cup proved that this is not an understatement. Two days after the 4: 6, 2: 6 against the Czech world number 81. Jiri Lehecka also presented himself to Zverev far from his top form against Fritz. What was different from the two previous show tournaments in Saudi Arabia and Dubai, when he had beaten Serbia's tennis star Novak Djokovic, among others, was noticeable: Zverev blatantly lacks the rhythm of the game after the long break.
"All in all, you can see that the seven-month break was very long and that it takes time to come back," said former Davis Cup captain Patrick Kühnen as a Sky expert. Zverev's performance against Fritz was disappointing from the start: "He never got into the match, after the early break the match eluded him."
In the first set, Fritz, who was ninth in the world rankings, had literally demonstrated the German number one in 21 minutes. In the second set, Zverev played a little more stably, but by no means with the security that had distinguished him until his serious injury in the French Open semi-final against Rafael Nadal. He had the feeling that Zverev was "a bit rusty" after the long break, Fritz said afterwards: "He gave me a lot of free points."
Australian Open: Hope for a good draw
For Zverev, this is mainly for physical reasons, he says he has only been able to train pain-free again for two or three weeks. Physically, he was "not yet at the level I need to be," he admitted: "I get tired a lot faster than before, I'm not as fast as I probably was."
It is questionable that this will change by the start of the Australian Open. Zverev has to hope for a good draw and bet that he can improve with more match practice. Otherwise there is a risk of a big disappointment at the "Happy Slam".
In addition to Zverev, Wimbledon quarter-finalist Jule Niemeier also lost her match against Madison Keys from the USA (2: 6, 3: 6). The German team no longer has a chance of progressing in the mixed tournament, which is endowed with 15 million US dollars (14.05 million euros).