Mischa Zverev: Persevere and volley

(Last Updated On: September 5, 2017)

FROM THE US OPEN – If there’s anyone still wondering why so few players serve and volley on the tour these days, just play back Sam Querrey demolishing Mischa Zverev during their round of 16 meeting at Flushing Meadows.

Querrey won 6-2, 6-2, 6-1 in an hour and 17 minutes. While his exceptional level of play indeed contributed to the scoreline, it also demonstrated why rushing the net has become such a difficult task in today’s game.

With a shoulder problem slightly hampering Zverev’s serving, the tall, free-swinging Querrey could drill back returns and run down Zverev’s deep volleys to send them back in whichever direction. While Zverev had more success using angles and drop volleys to move his opponent forward, Querrey’s power made such shots harder to control, frequently producing balls that sat up for him to put away. Meanwhile, Querrey was sending down 130-mph blasts that were difficult just to return, scarcely return and charge.

Zverev, who broke into the Top 30 this season at age 30, is the highest-ranked player serving and volleying with regularity, and among just a handful in the top 100 in the ATP singles rankings. The German has seen his style of play declining since he first arrived on tour as a teenager, and says it is being squeezed from two sides, not just the slowing down of the courts, but also the speeding up of equipment.

“Even then the courts were getting slower,” Zverev recalled in an interview this season. “The balls were getting maybe a little slow. But, the equipment and racquets were getting more powerful. I always say it became little tougher for s&v because the ball travels [at a higher speed] through the air, but then kind of slows down a little bit when it bounces, which is not good for the serve-volleyer but is good for the baseliner.” 

Slower hard courts tend to be more gritty, and increase the effect of spin-producing poly strings, making it even tougher at net.

“Because the courts are so grippy, it really is good for topspin, the heavy topspin like Rafa (Nadal) or like (Roger) Federer also. So it’s been changing a little bit,” he said.

Hardly any players re eager to contend with this double whammy, but Zverev is still rushing in where others will not tread.

Zverev’s 20-year-old brother, Alexander, plays a contemporary baseline style and is in the Top 10 in the rankings. But it wasn’t for him. 

“I realized I wasn’t as effective from the baseline as I needed to be to win matches,” said Zverev. “Even when I was 15, 16, I felt like, coming in I win a lot of points and a lot of opponents get frustrated. I always felt it’s something I enjoy doing also because it’s like gambling a little bit … crosscourt, down-the-line, is he going to – I like that attitude, that gamestyle.”

Zverev was taught the net game by his father, Alexander Sr., who also played that way in a more conducive era. And despite all the obstacles, he’s found ways to make it work in today’s game. Having almost stopped playing a few years ago because of injuries, he climbed his way back to playing ATP tournaments in 2016 and has notched wins against Andy Murray at the Australian Open, Novak Djokovic at Shanghai, and Stan Wawrinka at Basel, also twice making the second week of the majors.

“I just try to read players,” said Zverev, adding that there’s an advantage to having an unusual game. “Which is good for me, because not a lot of players get to play someone like me.” 

And for any youngsters looking to pick up the tradition, he would tell them to commit even if takes a while before they get the hang of it. “To stick to it, do it for a couple of months,” he said.

Seeing him play might get a few of them doing just that.

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