By Ian Ransom
MELBOURNE (Reuters) – Being the lone standard-bearer for ‘Gen Next’ did few favours for Alexander Zverev at the Grand Slams but playing second fiddle to the other young talents at the Australian Open is working wonders for the German talent.
The 22-year-old seventh seed cruised into the third round on Thursday with a dominant 7-6(5) 6-4 7-5 win over Belarusian battler Egor Gerasimov, continuing his encouraging start at the year’s first Grand Slam.
For once, Zverev is some distance from the spotlight, having been largely written off as a contender to break the Grand Slam oligopoly of Novak Djokovic, Rafa Nadal and Roger Federer in Melbourne.
His failure to reach a major quarter-final on grass or hardcourt has strengthened that perception, as has the rise of hyped young rivals including Russia’s Daniil Medvedev and Greece’s Stefanos Tsitsipas.
Blending into the crowd is a novel feeling at Melbourne Park for 6ft-6in (1.98m) Zverev, but also a welcome one.
“Last year I came in winning the World Tour Finals, beating maybe the two best players of all time in the semi-finals and finals,” Zverev said of his 2018 title in London, where he upset Federer and Djokovic.
“I was also kind of the only young guy still. Now you have Tsitsipas, now you have Medvedev, you have (Denis) Shapovalov.
“I just think there are more young guys that are playing better. The attention is going towards them, as well, a little bit.
“It’s a nice feeling for me, but I’m through to the third round, I’m happy about that.”
His start in Melbourne is a massive rebound from a dreadful week at the season-opening ATP Cup, where he racked up an astonishing 31 double-faults in three defeats and looked to be suffering a crisis of confidence.
He reduced the double-fault count to four in his first round win over Marco Cecchinato in Melbourne.
He hit no double-faults against Gerasimov, while bashing nine aces and landing 78% of his first serves at Rod Laver Arena.
Zverev wavered when serving for the match at 5-3, allowing world number 98 Gerasimov to break back and level to 5-5, but the German wrapped up the contest soon after with a barrage of stunning forehand winners.
He will play Fernando Verdasco for a place in the fourth round and victory over the tough Spanish veteran is likely to shift the spotlight straight back to him.
Zverev said social media and mobile phones had made it harder for younger players to avoid being caught up in the hype than compared to the days when Federer, now 38, was making waves in his early 20s.
“I’m trying to look at social media as little as possible during Grand Slams, during big tournaments,” Zverev told reporters.
“Yeah, no offence to you guys, I don’t really read what you guys write. You can go ahead and write whatever you want about me. It’s fine. I will not be offended.”
(Reporting by Ian Ransom; Editing by Muralikumar Anantharaman)