It has taken 30-year-old German Mischa Zverev more than a decade as a tennis professional to become an overnight sensation.
He finally was discovered this January, 11 years after turning pro, when he knocked off then-No. 1 Andy Murray to gain the Australian Open quarterfinals. It was Zverev’s deepest run in a Grand Slam event and only the third time — in 20 appearances — that he got past the second round in a major tournament.
He could duplicate that success today by defeating American Sam Querrey in a U.S. Open fourth-rounder. (They’ve never met.) Now ranked 27th, Zverev suddenly is a topic of conversation.
There is the matter of choreography: Zverev is a rare practitioner of the aggressive but risky serve-and-volley style. Because, he said, “my baseline game was not good enough, so I chose Plan B.” His father/coach, Alexander, had been a serve-and-volleyer good enough to play for the old Soviet Union’s Davis Cup team and taught Mischa some tricks.
There is the roundabout way Zverev stuck with the sport despite a ranking that fell below 1,000 while he dealt with serious wrist, rib and knee injuries and didn’t win a tournament in nine years: He was encouraged and challenged by his precocious brother, Sasha, 10 years his junior and a baseliner, who broke into the top 10 this summer. (That was real overnight success.)
Even Mischa admitted that the Zverev he expected to be playing for a spot in the quarters was Sasha, but the younger sibling was upset in the second round. Anyway, 11 years on the tour has taught the elder Zverev a few things about match-to-match expectations.
Yes, it’s possible he could beat the 21st-ranked Querrey — himself enjoying a career year highlighted by July’s appearance a Wimbledon semifinal. It can be argued, in fact, that Zverev could wind up in the Open final; on Friday, he eliminated the highest remaining seed in his half of the bracket.
“But it’s not math — one plus one is two, two is smaller than three,” Zverev said. “In tennis, the draw is one thing, but I’m old enough to understand that I can win three sets against John, who is seeded No. 10, but I barely won my first round. I was two sets to one down and a break down in the fourth against the guy ranked 600 in the world.” Actually, North Carolinian wild card Thai-Son Kwiatkowski was 710th.
“Draw is one thing,” Zverev said, “but facing the next opponent can be something else.”
Of course Querrey agreed. This is no time to overthink things.
With six of the top 10 seeds already eliminated and perennial title contenders Murray, Novak Djokovic and Stan Wawrinka absent because of injuries, “It’s a little more opportunity and kind of a freak year,” Querrey said. “But you don’t change anything. Worry about your own serve. Try to dial it in, get a few in. That’s it. Usually, the less I worry about, the better I play.”