November 14, 2018
So Novak Djokovic beat the crumbling young pretender, Alexander Zverev 6-4, 6-1.
It virtually booked the Serb’s semi-final place. No great surprise there.
Here’s what was perhaps a little more surprising. The way Djokovic talked about Zverev, who is more than ten years his junior, after the match.
Novak was searingly honest. Sure, he complimented Sascha’s serve. He also didn’t pull his punches about Zverev’s fragility.
And Djokovic seemed almost embarrassed about the way the match fell away as a spectacle.
He said: ‘I don’t think it was breathtaking tennis from either of us. But a win is a win.
‘He obviously made a lot of unforced errors that allowed me to win more easily than I expected.
‘Especially in the second set, he wasn’t close to his best. But anyway I hope you guys enjoyed the match.
‘He served very well in the first set and it was really hard to read, even more so than against John Isner.
‘Obviously I knew his first serve percentage would eventually drop. And that’s when I had my chance.
‘Mentally I just hung on and moved him around the court at break point.
‘First set he was serving huge. I knew he doesn’t volley that great so I tried to make him play and it paid off.
‘Me having a set advantage affected him mentally, as it helped me.’
Sometimes tennis winners are over-generous or positively gushing about losers in post-match interviews.
It is respectful but also inaccurate. So I’m going to say well done Novak. You told it like it is.
Maybe Djokovic is fed up with the hype surrounding Zverev, who is acclaimed as the greatest of the new generation.
And yet Zverev hasn’t come close to winning a Slam. Future world number ones have to be tougher than this.
The underdog had break points at 4-4 but Djokovic controlled those points. And the younger man only won one more game in the entire match.
Novak recently lost to the 22-year-old Karen Khachanov. Younger than Zverev is Stefanos Tsitsipas, also a future world-beater and superstar.
So why does Zverev get all the hype? Well, he is world number five for a start. He is talented and charismatic.
But when things aren’t going his way, he can also play like a pampered boy who isn’t used to fighting for anything.
Ivan Lendl can turn that round. But until he does, you sense that Djokovic is slightly irritated by all the hero-worship the young pretender receives.
It’s almost as if Novak is saying: ‘Earn it. I’m not papering over the cracks for you. Here’s what you’re good at. And here is where you fall short. Very short.’
And you know what? If Zverev is going to grow up, he should take it on the chin and sort himself out.
After all, 21 isn’t so very young. Not in sporting terms. Not in tennis.
Does Novak Djokovic actually like Alexander Zverev? Maybe. It’s just that you couldn’t detect it from the flash interviews at the O2 in London.
This is an emerging rivalry worth watching. It doesn’t seem filled with warmth right now.
And that makes the added spice all the more fascinating.
By Mark Ryan for WDH