Forever waiting? Why the Zverev gen struggles so much winning slams

by Simon Zeitler
zverev rome

The 2024 French Open champion is Carlos Alcaraz. The 21-year-old from El Palmar has won his already third Slam, coming on the third different surface as well. His fellow next-gen star Jannik Sinner won his maiden Slam in Australia and sits at World No. 1, also at just 22 years old.

But the previous next-gen stars almost all are still waiting for their time at the four major tournaments. So why is it that Zverev, Tsitsipas, Rublev and others are not able to win those illusive titles?

Growing up in the Big Three era

One of the main reasons in the past was that they grew up in the era of the Big Three, of course. Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic have dominated men’s tennis for decades and most major titles were locked in for the three of them. Nadal of course dominated the clay, while Federer called Wimbledon his home and Djokovic was almost unbeatable in Australia. If at all, it took a very special performance, and possibly some luck with injuries and draws, to take a major title off these legends.

It is a very short and elite list of people, who won a Grand Slam between 2010 and 2020: next to the Big Three it includes Andy Murray, Marin Cilic, Stan Wawrinka and Dominic Thiem. Just for reference, this means that 39 titles are split between 7 people only – and 31 of those between Federer, Nadal and Djokovic. But while we might never see another era like this again, these players grow older and theoretically the chances of Zverev and others would grow bigger. 

Stefanos Tsitsipas tennis
Can Stefanos Tsitsipas challenge in 2024?

Djokovic and the Next Generation

But just as the 2020 US Open final seemed to show a silver lining on the horizon for the generation born between 1996 and 2000, the empire strikes back. Djokovic and Nadal won another 9 out of 12 titles until 2023 and only left room for 3 new winners. And as if that wasn’t enough, the rising star Alcaraz took two of these titles straight away at just 19 and 20 years old. So, is the former next gen cursed from ever winning a big title?

Well, there is one amongst them, who defied those odds and won his maiden Grand Slam title in 2021: Daniil Medvedev. It surely is feasible, even given the still ever-so-strong Novak Djokovic and the young guns. But Daniil has one thing, that sets him apart from other players of his generation – his mental game. It may not always look like it, as he sometimes is talking to himself on court, arguing with the ref and throwing things around, but the Russian No.1 surely has a very strong mental game in his own way.

Of course, he too struggled to close out the 2022 Australian Open against a clearly limited Rafael Nadal, but he just doesn’t seem to care too much about pressure and the moment. If you look at the others in his age group, they do not always possess these abilities. Sascha Zverev probably is one of the hardest hitters in tennis of the past decades, but he regularly struggles in big matches and gets more and more passive as pressure is building.

Stefanos Tsitsipas is another Slam finalist, who struggled to close the match there and often seems overwhelmed with side projects and his father’s coaching attempts. And let’s not get started with the mental state of Andrey Rublev currently, who after his disqualification in Dubai still hasn’t found his calm back, if there ever was one. So, is it all just mental?

Resilience and endurance – their way to a Slam

We should also not forget that, even if we are now used to players having 20+ Slams, it is very hard to win such a tournament and that players have struggled with this for decades. A lot of legendary players have never been able to lift one of the four trophies, while others just seemed to be at the right place at the right time. But winning a Slam definitely takes a lot of endurance and resilience, because you will never be able to close out every opportunity. Even Novak wasn’t able to close when facing his maybe final goal, the Calendar Year Grand Slam.

So, for Tsitsipas, Zverev and Rublev, these defeats do not necessarily mean that they will never win a Slam in their lifetime. They might just not have been ready yet or might have faced the wrong opponent in those matches. With the departure of Federer and Nadal, Novak struggling and the next gen still being very young, there will be opportunities coming.

To take those, their generation just needs to stay patient, play their tennis and execute when it comes down to the finals. And you only get this by exposure to this pressure, by being in those situations. And believe it or not, these chances will get more now, and maybe the Zverev’s of this world will get more resilient and successful facing those.

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