Alexander Zverev sets up Italian Open final against resurgent Novak Djokovic
German 20-year-old Alexander Zverev drew praise from defeated opponent John Isner as he progressed to the final against Novak Djokovic, who thrashed Dominic Thiem
John Isner, who has seen a lot of good players come and go in his 12 years on the Tour, thinks the 20-year-old Alexander Zverev, who beat him for the third time in a row to reach his first Masters 1000 final, has what it takes to be one of the greats.
The tall, thin, deceptively powerful German will never have had a bigger stage on which to deliver on such glowing praise than in a heaving Campo Centrale on Sunday in the final of the Italian Open against Novak Djokovic.
The Serb was back to his imperious best in the second semi-final on Saturday night, dismissing the other young lion of the Tour, Dominic Thiem, in 23 seconds under the hour, 6-1, 6-0. A day earlier the world No7 had stopped the 17-match clay conquest of Rafael Nadal but the Austrian was no match for Djokovic.
Playing now without his long-time coaching staff, Djokovic was irresistible, hitting the ball hard, deep and wide whenever he felt like pulling the trigger. If he can reproduce this form at Roland Garros, the rejuvenated world No2 will push Nadal and Andy Murray all the way in defence of the title he won last year to complete a career grand slam.
While Isner cautioned against starting up the band too soon for Zverev, who showed no nerves at all in winning the first semi-final 6-4, 6-7 (5-7), 6-1, the willowy prodigy looks to have something that sets him apart. He might just give Djokovic a fright.
I dont know if it would be a torch-passing moment, Isner said of the prospect of the world No17 winning the title, which would make him the youngest champion in Rome since a teenage Nadal beat Roger Federer in the memorable 2006 final. That, in my opinion, goes when he overtakes a bunch of other guys. Hes definitely on his way to that but maybe not right at this second, even if he were to win.
But if he does win, it would be a very cool story for tenGerman nis. I mean, hes talented. He was gifted with a lot of ability but he doesnt let it go to waste at all. I have seen it in the off-season, as well. Thats what it takes to be incredibly good and one of the greats: youre blessed with a lot of ability but you work hard; youre hungry and you want to win. Thats exactly what he does.
Born in Germany of Russian stock, Zverev appears to have the hard-wired Russian grit, mental as well as physical, common to people from harsh environments. And, although he has joined the community of tennis exiles in Monaco, he is in no doubt about his allegiance. My parents moved to Germany in 91. I wasnt even born yet. I grew up in Germany, went to a German school, had German friends. I am the most German that I can be.