Alexander Zverev believes Roger Federer is sharing his knowledge with players like himself, and others from younger generations, to make sure that tennis will be in good hands when the Swiss legend retires.
Zverev received a surprise pep talk from Federer following the 20-year-old German’s five-set loss to Chung Hyeon at the Australian Open in January and it had quite the impact on him.
Ranked No. 5 in the world, Zverev has had lots of success on tour in his young career, winning six titles including two Masters 1000s. But he is yet to translate that success to the Slams, where he hasn’t made a quarter-final yet.
His latest attempt to reach a last-eight stage at a major came in Melbourne, where he fell to Chung in the third round.
A disappointed Zverev was then given some words of advice from Federer, who told him not to put himself under “unnecessary pressure”.
“I didn’t expect it. I was on my bench in the locker room and he’s actually on the other side of the locker room there,” Zverev told reporters in Indian Wells about that day in Melbourne.
“He came up talking to me, I was obviously really upset, I was bummed out, losing a five-set match in a Grand Slam is never easy, especially I knew I was actually playing alright.
“It’s obviously very encouraging. He told me a little bit of a story that the first time he got past the quarters he was already 22 years old. So for me that was very encouraging, he’s the greatest player of all-time and he told me something like that, that he never passed the quarters until he was 22.
“And I’m only 20 years old. In that case I still have time to win a few majors I’m guessing. For me it’s more about winning matches and winning big titles until I get there.”
Zverev grew up idolising Federer, and has beaten the Swiss twice in five career meetings.
At 36, Federer is currently ranked No. 1 in the world and has won 20 Slams.
Zverev believes Federer has a habit of choosing promising youngsters to mentor and is pleased to be one of them.
“We know that he wants to pass on his knowledge to the guys that he thinks are going to be great as well. He’s done it on a few occasions, he’s done it with Grigor [Dimitrov] a little bit when he was a bit younger,” Zverev continued.
“He’s doing it with me a little bit now, he’s trying to talk to me, he’s trying to give me advice, even in practice when he sees something that I should do differently, like play a shot in a different way, he tells me.
“He’s obviously somebody that understands that he is the greatest player of all-time but at the same time he’s not going to play forever and he is somebody that wants to keep tennis in great hands and wants to keep tennis at the highest level it can be and he’s obviously doing everything to help that.”
Zverev is seeded No. 4 at Indian Wells and shares a quarter with No. 8 seed Jack Sock. He has the likes of Juan Martin del Potro, Novak Djokovic and Marin Cilic in his half and begins his campaign against either Mikhail Youzhny or Joao Sousa.
The 20-year-old is feeling confident heading into the tournament, despite tweaking his knee against Del Potro in Acapulco last week, and insists he has zero concerns about his Grand Slam prospects.
Zverev has competed in just 11 Slam main draws so far, with his best appearance being a Wimbledon fourth round last season. He blamed the media for placing pressure on him saying: “I understand that everybody thinks I have to win a Slam within the next three months otherwise it’s a disaster for me.
“But to be very honest, I think the pressure comes a little bit from you guys as well, everybody keeps talking about the Grand Slams in our sport but obviously I’ve won two Masters so I know what it takes to win big tournaments, I know what it takes to beat the best players in the big tournaments.
“I’ve beaten Novak and Roger in those [Masters] finals, so those are not small matches for them either.
“The Grand Slam results will come, I’m not even worried about that. I said in Australia I thought I played well. I lost to a very strong Chung, who played phenomenal.
“He didn’t lose a set to anybody, but me, until he lost in the semi-finals. That is somebody who played with a lot of confidence and great feel. And I still had a chance to win, I had a chance to win that match in four sets.
“So for me it’s about getting through those matches and playing my best and the rest will take care of itself.”
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