Turning Back The Clock: Mischa Zverev

When the chair umpire says, “Game, set, match, Zverev”, one would most definitely believe it to be Alexander, the teen prodigy who’s been causing a lot of hype on tour for the last two years, except from now on, they’ll have to see the scorecard to see which of the two brothers wreaked havoc.

Mischa Zverev, Alexander’s older brother, caused the biggest upset of this year’s Australian Open when world number 1, Sir Andy Murray’s dreams of inching closer to a career slam took a major hit inside the Rod Laver Arena owing to the most outrageous display of old-school serve & volley in recent times and Mischa reached his maiden grand slam quarter final.

The Mischa Miracle

Zverev came into the match having played an exhausting 2nd round match against the big serving American John Isner, coming back from two sets to love, for over 4 hours. His mother, with an effervescent smile on her face, showed the silent belief she had in her son. Playing arguably the biggest match of his injury-affected career, Mischa Zverev produced the best tennis he could ever play, attacking the net at almost every point and putting up a John McEnroe-esque lefty serve & volley all throughout. One of the greatest returners of all time, Murray had no clue against Zverev’s aggressive display. At least, not for long. The 29 year old German sliced his backhands with fascinating precision, volleyed with courage, slapped his forehands, returned like a beast. But more than anything, he believed. And played with an unfazed calm that sometimes even top players fail to contain.

Murray threw all his weapons at Zverev, but the game simply wasn’t his. The lob specialist had to see smashes whizzing past him every now and then. He made some serious inroads in the second set after a magnificent all-round tennis from Mischa Zverev in the first made sure the latter wins it 7-5, when he looked his normal self courtesy some great signature returns on Zverev’s serve. Murray leveled the match, winning the set 7-5. But few could’ve guessed what came next.

As Murray started looking all the more clueless against the aggressive tactic of his opponent, Zverev started to get more and more comfortable with his returns. What followed was pure humiliation at the hands of the talented German. From 7-5, 5-7, 1-2, Zverev reeled off 7 straight games to see himself knocking at the doors of an epic victory, as he led 7-5, 5-7, 6-2, 2-0. Murray held his next four serves and so did Zverev, thus becoming the first one from his family to advance up to the quarterfinals stage of a Grand Slam.

Family Matters

Zverev, known for his embarrassing 39-minute 0-6, 0-6 defeat to Roger Federer at 2013 Gerry Weber Open, had missed a lot of weeks on tour due to injury after having an initial breakthrough in 2009. During the latter half of 2014, he missed a lot of weeks due to, wait for it, a herniated disc, fractured ribs and a fractured wrist, thereby dropping out of top 100 in the rankings.

A dejected Mischa started coaching a few friends of Alexander’s and helped them play a few Futures tournaments when finally he started missing the excitement of playing the sport himself. That’s when his brother Sascha (who already had made some name for himself at the tender age of 17), their father/coach Alexander Zverev Sr. and mother Irena encouraged him to make a comeback. And he did. Better than anybody could’ve imagined, better than he could’ve imagined. He changed his game style to a serve-and-volley style – more suited to the 1980’s than 2017 when powerful baseline tennis rules the sport – to help with his fitness, since trainers told him the less he moves, the lesser the chances of another career threatening injury. Sascha’s trainer, Jez Green – famous for transforming Murray into a physical beast – worked with Mischa in the 2015 and 2016 off-season as well.
And there’s more to their brotherly love with the two practicing together, jointly coached by their father. When on tour, the whole Zverev family and Mischa’s girlfriend stay together – needless to say, the brothers play the same tournaments and often they play doubles together. And, one watching the other’s matches from the player’s box is a common site nowadays on tour.
Last year, while being interviewed after becoming the first teenager since Novak Djokovic to break the top 20, Sascha said, “My brother broke the top 65 after a long time, so yeah, it’s been a good week.”
And when Mischa was asked about having bragging rights over Sascha on being the first Zverev to reach a Grand Slam quarter final after defeating Andy Murray, he said, “Well, he’s still the higher ranked player. He’ll get to be the first one to enter the house when we get back.”
And for the Zverev’s, it’s evident that the family matters, do matter a great deal.  

Facing Federer

All eyes would be on Zverev when he takes on Swiss Maestro Roger Federer after their Halle clash 4 years back, and if he would like to add yet another feather to his crown. He has literally been turning back the clock lately with his inspired old-school tennis and to put things  in perspective, he’s approached the net at this year’s Australian Open an astonishing 364 times in 4 matches averaging at 91 per match, at a time when a 30 is considered highly aggressive. He’ll have to do the exact same against Federer and some more in order to put up a healthy fight and hope his plans work.

This change in his game has reaped rewards ever since his comeback. From becoming the first player to qualify for 11 tournaments in a single season in 2016, to defeating the prodigious Nick Kyrgios in Shanghai, to posting a career-defining victory against #1 Murray, one would feel that Mischa’s topsy-turvy career is nearing a full-circle. And with time running out, the once unheralded star believes that rankings don’t matter, it’s the inner zeal that brings out the beast who does not care about his opponents’ big names and achievements. All that matters is the present and Mischa Zverev lives in it.

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