Zverev is maturing, Tsitsipas stuns Djokovic

FROM TORONTO – Will it be normal, week after week, day after day, to be able to perform well on the courts? I doubt it, but perhaps Alexander (Sasha) Zverev believes in it. He is pretty good, he is alright in the top 3. He plays freely — still — but now many people are gunning for him. He knows that.

“It’s normal. I think all the top guys feel more pressure because everybody is looking for them,” Zverev said. “Everybody is more excited to play them. You saw the reaction that Stefanos [Tsitsipas] had after he beat Novak [Djokovic]. He’s not going to have that reaction beating any other player. So it’s normal. That comes with it. And I think it’s important to learn how to deal with it. I’m doing quite okay with it. After I got to the top 5, I stayed there, and hopefully I will stay there for many more years to come. But, of course, there’s a period where you go through where it changes.

“It will change for Stefanos. I think everybody will have to go through that. Right now they’re still playing freely. Right now, they’re still the youngest guys on tour. Right now, they don’t have any pressure. It’s going to be interesting to see when they start feeling that they’re the hunted and they’re the ones that everybody is looking out for, how it will affect them.”

Zverev looked pretty sufficient in besting Danill Medvedev 6-3 6-2. He is super strong, he can be patient at times and early on, he can crack his forehands and backhands. Yes, during the Slams, he stops thinking, and he overhits it. But, during through a number of marathon matches at Roland Garros and Wimbledon, he hung in there. He didn’t go far enough, but at least he continued to try.

But that was during in the Grand Slams. Right now, Zverev is in Toronto, an ATP 1000. Without a doubt, he has a legitimate change to win the title, even with No. 1 Rafael Nadal in the mix. Tsitsipas will face Zverev on Friday.

There are times when player are totally clicked in, and the 19-year-old Tsitsipas never backed off. He lost the second set to Novak Djokovic and he did not fold. Tsitsipas won 6-3 6-7(5) 6-3, with some gigantic serves.

Believe it to not, the 2018 Wimbledon champion Djokovic was unable to break him. On hardcourts, that is surprising. But the Serbian knows that Tsitsipas and other young players get better and better all the time.

“[Tsitsipas ] won against [Dominic] Thiem yesterday. He was feeling well,” Djokovic said. “I think he was serving 18 aces, last match, and then also in the first match a lot of aces. So he was just serving big. He was serving all corners. So I didn’t really read his serve that well… He’s definitely one of the leaders of NextGen without a doubt, especially this season. He’s had some terrific results and terrific wins. He’s showing a lot of commitment, a lot of discipline. He’s putting in the hours in the gym, on the tennis court, and it’s paying off. He’s very talented. He was the best junior in the world. If he keeps on going this way, he’s got a good future.”

Djokovic will play Cincy next week. While he so-so in Toronto, he should be one of the favorite with Roger Federer, who says he will play there, as well Andy Murray. Will Djokovic eventually be become No. 1 this year? He isn’t sure, but he wants it.

“Grand Slams are probably the most important tournaments for me, for many players,” he said. “But at the same time, I really want to do well in these kind of tournaments. These are the biggest events we have in ATP Tour. I’ve won 30 Master Series events so far in my career. And that stat, shows how committed I am to play well in these tournaments.

So I really want to do well. So, I mean, losing in this kind of tournament, it’s not something I don’t care about. It really frustrates me. But I have to accept it, deal with it, and move on.”

Report card: top five men in Rome

Here are the men with the best results last week in Rome.

Rafa Nadal A+
The Spaniard can be so-so at times, and he knows that, and he says that, even if we don’t always believe him. On clay, when he is on top of his game, he is control 95 percent of the time. When he was close to losing the final to Alexander Zverev, he stepped up, smacked his forehand and weaker backhand, and he found his range. He is super smart and driven. Nadal will come into Roland Garros this week and be a serious favored to win it again: that would be 11 times. Wow!

Alexander Zverev A-
The German was pretty close to winning Rome, moving forward, pounding his backhand and serving big. The 21-year-old has had a terrific three weeks, beating 13 different players, knocking down a few of the best. But as Zverev has said, he was so close to put down Nadal for the first time but coulnd’t make it happen at the end of the match. With a break in the third, he lost his fire. Can he win in Paris? That is unsure.

Novak Djokovic B+
At least the former No. 1 reached the semis. While he lost against Nadal, he was finally a little bit confident and focused. He may not love clay, but he is a very good player from top to bottom. As long as he stays healthy, he will return to the top 10, then into the top 5, but after that, to win a Grand Slam this year? The jury is out.

Marin Cilic B+
The Croat had a very good week in Rome. Yes, he didn’t win, but at least he hustled and changed his tactics. Reaching the semis on clay makes Cilic smile.

Kei Nishikori B
The Japanese also had a good week, not retiring, staying in there. He never gave up. He and Djokovic had some fun rallies, and coming up to Roland Garros, I am sure they will be practicing for many hours.