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Alix Ramsay Rambles About Tennis Players On Day One At Wimbledon 2019

As opening days of a grand slam go, this one was a doozie. As opening days of Wimbledon go, this one was something else again.


We kicked off with Naomi Osaka, the world No.2 and the reigning champion of the US and Australian Opens, being unceremoniously dumped out of the tournament by Yulia “Poots” Putintseva. We followed up with Cori Gauff, at 15 years old, upending Venus Williams in two peerless sets. (If you wish to know more about the newborn star and her remarkable Monday, I refer you to m’learned colleague Ricky D who has done the moment proud on another page on this site.) But we were only just beginning.


While all of this was going on, two telling results came through: Alexander Zverev, the world No.5 and Stefanos Tsitsipas, the world No.6, were shown the door by Jiri Vesely and Thomas Fabbiano respectively. The two leading Next Gen stars has failed miserably to live up to their seeding and potential.


Before the tournament, Zverev had spoken of the new generation: now was the time for one of them to step forward and take on the old guard. The Big Three at the top of the rankings, the trio who lovingly polish the 53 grand slam singles trophies they hold between them, were getting on in years and it was about time someone new came along to shake things up.


And then Zverev went down 4-6, 6-3, 6-2, 7-5 to Vesely and Tsitsipas was done 6-4, 3-6, 6-4, 6-7, 6-3 by Fabbiano.


For Zverev, the result was another depressing stat to add to his extremely ordinary record for the year. Since he beat Novak Djokovic at the ATP Tour Finals last November, he has gone backwards at a rate of knots.


Back before the US Open, he hired Ivan Lendl as his second coach – his dad, Alexander Senior, is the main man in the team; Lendl is there to help rather than run the show – but it does not seem to have made much difference. Zverev can win away from the grand slams but on the very biggest stages, he loses his way time and again. So what happened this time, Sascha?


“It was kind of a typical Grand Slam match for me,” the German said. “I started off well, then one or two things don’t go my way, and everything kind of a little bit falls apart.

Alexander Zverev of Germany returns to Jiri Vesely of the Czech Republic in their first round match during the Wimbledon Championships at the All England Lawn Tennis Club, in London, Britain, 01 July 2019. EPA-EFE/NIC BOTHMA EDITORIAL USE ONLY/NO COMMERCIAL SALES

“Yeah, I’m not very high on confidence right now. When I get to the important moments, I had, what, five, six breakpoints in the fourth set alone, can’t take any of those. I had a Love-40, a 15-40. I’m down one breakpoint myself and he takes it immediately, where I miss an easy volley.


“So, yeah. I didn’t lose this match on tennis. It’s just, yeah, my confidence is below zero right now.”


Andy why is his confidence so low?


“Because I haven’t won much this year,” came the reply. “Simple.”


To make life even more complicated for Zverev, he parted company from his agent, Patricio Apey, in the off-season now the two are involved in a legal dispute to sort out the financial ramifications. Some reports estimate that the settlement could run to eight figures. Zverev may be a very self-confident 22-year-old but this acrimonious split is proving hard to deal with.


He told the German press that, without naming names, he “could not believe” the actions of someone he “thought was my friend” in the past couple of days. This person is, according to Zverev, “doing everything to harm me”. This, then, has made him “angry”.


As he explained in English to the main press corps, his off-court issues have had a knock-on effect. And the main effect is a first round loss at Wimbledon.


“It’s just what happens with me,” he said. “Physically I’m fine. I can play 10 sets, no problem. I don’t really get tired.


“Yeah, mental, I mean, I get down on myself a lot. But, yeah, I don’t think it’s neither of those because mentally I showed I’m quite strong in the last few years. It’s different things, I think, right now.


“Life is also one thing. Everything that happens outside the court affects you. In the last two days, I would say are very rough for me personally. I’m not going to get into details, but I’m just saying. I have to fix that to play well on the court.”


But that is the difference between the Next Gen and the Established Gen. When Fed, Raf and Djoko started winning, they had everything in place off the court to make their life on the court as simple as possible: concentrate on the ball and the point in front of you and all will be well. It did take Djoko longer to get the hang of this than his two leading rivals but he got there in the end. And he has been winning grand slams to a band playing for the past eight years.


The Next Gen? Not so much.


Tsitsipas seems to have a better grasp of this than Zverev but, then again, the Greek announced himself on the back of good results over top players. He has built his reputation quickly – he is still only 20, remember – but the foundations have laid on the tennis courts. Zverev, on the other hand, grew up as the son of tennis player, the brother of tennis player and in a country desperate to recreate the successes of the Becker-Stich years. His reputation was formed for him by outside forces before he had done anything of note. And that takes some living up to.


Trying to explain this pressured and difficult situation, Tsitsipas hit the nail on the head.


“We’ve seen players my age, many years ago – I would like to name Rafa, Roger – they seemed very mature and professional what they were doing. They had consistency from a young age. They always did well tournament by tournament without major drops or inconsistency.


“Something that we as the Next Gen players lack, including myself as well, is this consistency week by week. It’s a week-by-week problem basically, that we cannot adjust to that.”


So just as the world was steeling itself for the rise of the new wave, one their leaders exposed their fatal flaw. Blimey, it had been one hell of a first day at Wimbledon.

Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece in action against Thomas Fabbiano of Italy during their first round match at the Wimbledon Championships at the All England Lawn Tennis Club, in London, Britain, 01 July 2019. EPA-EFE/FACUNDO ARRIZABALAGA EDITORIAL USE ONLY/NO COMMERCIAL SALES

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