By Mike McIntyre
With the exception of his straight-sets victory in the first round, No. 2 seed Alexander Zverev had been playing with fire all week at the French Open. Three consecutive five set matches tested his followers confidence in his game and also clearly pushed his body past its limit as well. On Tuesday he was defeated by 7th seeded Dominic Thiem 6-4, 6-2, 6-1 after he suffered an injury to his left hamstring that would hamper his ability to serve and navigate his way around the clay on court Phillippe-Chatrier.
With Rafael Nadal the clear-cut favorite on the other side of the draw it likely wouldn't have mattered even if Zverev had advanced to the finals. At a mere 21 years of age he will certainly have many more future opportunities and is bound to end his career one day with multiple Grand Slam titles given his immense talent level. Still the result is a disappointment considering his No. 2 seeding and the fact that he had played so well on the red clay in Europe over the past two months. He made the semi-finals in Monte Carlo, lost the finals in Rome to Nadal and won the events in Munich and Madrid to establish himself as a bonafide contender in Paris.
One aspect of Zverev's 2018 French Open experience that garnered a lot of attention off the court was his friendly banter in his press conferences with Yorkshire tennis reporter Jonathan Pinfield. Covering the event for Live Sports FM in the UK, Pinfield brought out the best in Zverev - even after his quarterfinal defeat at the hands of Thiem. Zverev himself admitted during his final meeting with the media that, “I think you’re the only person in the World who can make me smile right now”
Overall the week should be seen as a step in the right direction for Zverev. While he still awaits his first major Grand Slam breakthrough, he did manage to advance to the quarterfinals of one of tennis' biggest tournaments for the first time in his career. He also won three matches that went the distance to help improve his previous record in five set matches that had stood at a meager 3-4 before the event began.
While some are quick to criticize Zverev, he is not the only promising tennis player to fail to attain Grand Slam success at a young age. Sure, Boris Becker and Bjorn Borg, among others, captured their first at the age of 18 or younger, but others needed a bit more time to let their games and their maturity season. Andre Agassi was 22 when he triumphed at Wimbledon, Ivan Lendl took the first of his eight Slams at age 24 and perhaps the greatest tennis player that ever lived - Roger Federer - was nearly 22 when he won his maiden major championship at Wimbledon in 2003. In short, there is still time for Zverev - someone who also happens to play at a time when the sport is still being dominated by two over-thirty legends in Federer and Nadal.
The next step for Zverev will be to overcome his injury and begin preparations for Wimbledon at the start of July. His all-surface game means that potential success at a Grand Slam is not just limited to the red clay in Paris. That fact should bode well when he finally does break through that barrier and begins to create a legacy that I'm sure there is a good chance will eventually see his name mentioned along with some of the greatest the sport has ever seen.