Qualifying begins: 26 June
The Draw: 30 June
Pre-event Press Conferences: 1 & 2 July
Order of Play: 2 July
Championships begin: 3 July
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That’s quite the praise from a 14-time Grand Slam champion, who, after escaping an enthralling battle at Indian Wells against teenager Alexander ‘Sascha’ Zverev, will have been even more sure of the German's credentials.
After pushing his opponent to the limit, the towering, 6’6” teenager agonisingly missed a routine forehand volley at match point at 5-4 in the decider before Nadal stormed back to prevail.
Punchy groundstrokes, a booming serve and sauntering athleticism illustrated the fine array of shots off Zverev’s racket before he fell 6-7(8), 6-0, 7-5 to the world No.5.
Nevertheless, this was perhaps a glimpse to the future of the upper echelons of the men’s game.
“With his second serve at 120mph, with a lot of spin and at 124, 123, 120mph, it was impossible. If he puts the first serve in at over 130 mph then you are in big trouble,” explained the Spaniard.
“Sascha’s young, ready to take the risks, and if the opponent wants to take the risk on the second serve and he’s having success, it’s difficult to make something, no?”
Coming within inches of defeating a great of the game like Nadal is a far cry from Zverev’s start to the season, when he was dismantled in the Australian Open first round by Andy Murray for the loss of just six games.
Having fallen out of the main draw, Zverev stuck around in Melbourne, watching Roger Federer defeat Grigor Dimitrov in the third round. The Swiss maestro had asked Zverev to practice with him a handful of times in Australia. That speaks volumes.
Zverev first caught the eye in 2014 by winning the Braunschweig title at just 17 years and three months, making him the youngest player to clinch an ATP Challenger trophy since Bernard Tomic in 2009.
Incrementally the Monte Carlo resident has climbed up the rankings to a current career high of No.52.
As a result he is part of the ATP’s ‘Next Generation’ campaign which was unveiled prior to Indian Wells in March.
The ATP has highlighted a group of fledgling and exciting young players who are rising to prominence on the Tour and looking usurp the likes of Novak Djokovic, Murray and Federer at the helm of the tennis hierarchy.
“I think we all know that we have a lot of hard work still ahead of us. We’re not where we all want to be,” Zverev said at Indian Wells.
“We have a lot of physical work ahead of us, a lot of tennis work ahead of us. So I think the one who is going to do the most work is the one who is going to be the most successful.”
He is evidently eager to learn and hungry to improve in order to maximize his potential.
“I just want to be the best player I can be,” added the teenager. “It doesn’t mean that I have to be No. 1, it doesn’t mean that I have to be a Grand Slam champion. Of course, that’s what I’m looking for, that’s what all of our young guys’ work is for. That’s my ultimate goal, but I want to be the best I can, and always work hard.”
Fans were treated to a proper glimpse of Zverev’s talent in the Davis Cup earlier this month when he took top 10 stalwart Tomas Berdych to five sets.
Then Zverev well and truly helped catapult the ‘Next Generation’ campaign at Indian Wells. Before his fourth round epic with Nadal he had taken down Ivan Dodig, beaten Grigor Dimitrov 6-4, 3-6, 7-5 and most impressively crushed Gilles Simon 6-2, 6-2.
His Miami Open was curtailed at the second hurdle by 31st seed Steve Johnson in two tight tie-break sets. It was a tough defeat but highlighted that his results are improving, with his consistency on court enabling him to challenge higher ranked opponents.
He is a clear possible future no.1. He has all the shots.
Zverev is acutely aware of the demands of the modern game thanks to his brother Mischa, who reached No.45 eight years ago and remains in the top 200.
“It was not like somebody pushed me into the sport; I always wanted to play myself, I always wanted to beat Mischa,” said the German. “It was always a nice competition between the two of us.”
Adding to the tennis theme in the family, his mother has been a tennis coach and their father Alexander Sr is a former Soviet Union Davis Cup player.
Zverev grew up with the Tour, travelling initially with his family for Mischa’s junior career.
Now 18-year-old Alexander leads the way for the Zverev household. His raw power and efficiency has combined brutally with his cannonball serve that Nadal commented on at Indian Wells.
Along with the prodigies like Nick Kyrgios, Croatia’s Borna Coric and American hotshot Taylor Fritz, there are contemporaries pushing him to find that extra per cent, that spark on court to rise to the elite.
Zverev will undoubtedly learn from his Nadal encounter but he needs a top 10 victory to truly announce himself on the main stage.
However, with a languid, Marat Safin-esque style, burning desire and astonishing talent, it would appear only a short wait is required for a marquee win.
Given his current trajectory, Nadal could well be proven correct with his Zverev call.