Wednesday night’s upset win against fan favourite Carlos Alcaraz would not have struck as a massive shock to those who have followed Alexander Zverev’s career since he was a teenager.
Up two sets and 5-2 before losing the third set in a tiebreak, Zverev’s four-set win just about summarises his rollercoaster journey.
Endless episodes (both good and bad) can easily pave the way for a book to be written about the German’s eventful career thus far.
After winning his first ATP title in St. Petersburg in 2016 to beat world No.9 Tomas Berdych and World No.3 Stanislas Wawrinka along the way, Zverev quickly became touted as the next big thing to brace the sport - beginning an influx of the new generation ready to dethrone the ‘big three.’
Cementing himself in the top 10 thereafter, the 26-year-old’s big break came at the 2020 US Open when he reached his first and only Grand Slam final, only to let slip a two-set lead to Dominic Thiem in a crushing blow to his confidence.
Claiming the ATP World Tour Finals at the end of 2022, it laid the foundations for Zverev to climb to world No.3 and put himself three wins away from achieving the No.1 ranking, before a cruel ankle injury sustained against Rafael Nadal forced him to retire midway through his semi-final at Roland-Garros.
Zverev’s miracle run at Melbourne Park has ultimately exposed the elephant in the room of serious allegations involving domestic abuse.
In October 2020, Zverev’s ex-girlfriend Olga Sharypova accused the tennis star of punching her in the face, covering her face with a pillow until she couldn’t breathe, and pushing her against a wall.
Matters such as this must be dealt with the utmost caution, as Zverev has publicly come out to deny the allegations.
However, it doesn’t bode well on Zverev’s part that another former partner, Brenda Patea, told a German newspaper that she was choked and pushed into a wall three years ago.
A hearing will commence in May in Berlin whereby the former US Open finalist will begin to learn his fate.
But what does this all mean for Zverev for the present moment and stretching into May?
This is an extremely uncomfortable position for a lot of people to deal with, including the tournament organisers who refused to socialise Zverev’s victories in the earlier rounds until no longer being able to hide.
There’s a genuine question to be asked about whether Zverev should even be playing at the Australian Open.
Of course, no evidence is yet proven and Zverev is innocent until proven guilty, but the sheer enormity of the allegations cannot be a good look for the ATP.
Most fans in the stadium after Zverev’s win over Alcaraz were cheering and applauding the German, but are some of them aware of the events that have unfolded behind the scenes?
It feels as though this topic hasn’t gathered full steam or been mentioned nearly enough through outlets such as Channel Nine. Despite having a duty to report and analyse tennis matches, they are also a news organisation to inform the public (and these allegations are fairly significant).
For the fans in the stadium who have been aware of the off-court situation, they are stuck in an awkward dilemma. Do they rally around Zverev’s ability to put on a show and appreciate him for his tennis talent, or do they avoid cheering for a potential domestic abuser?
Similar connections can be made to the Spain women’s team who won the FIFA Women’s World Cup earlier this year.
Months leading into the event, 15 active players sent out a letter to the Spanish federation informing them that they would refuse to play until coach Jorge Vilda leaves his position. The players claimed that the manager had affected their health and emotional state after reports of making the players feel uncomfortable.
During Spain’s extraordinary path to winning the World Cup, the Spanish squad would almost completely neglect Vilda (who was not relived of his duties) and coaching staff to form their own bubble to celebrate.
In Zverev’s case, there is a sensitive vibe of being forced to split the two issues of tennis and domestic abuse. Still, as the former ATP Nitto Finals champion has progressed into the semi-finals of the Australian Open, attention on the matter has only naturally become more difficult to abstain.
Journalists have attempted to pose the question to Zverev in his press conferences, with one question asking whether it’s appropriate to be part of the ATP Player Council still while still pending trial as Zverev replied swiftly, “Why would it not be?”
The fact that he has come through two fifth-set tiebreaks this tournament amidst the distractions off-court has been impressive and a credit to his strong mentality.
Quietly, Australian Open organisers would have hoped for Zverev to bow out early and avoid the unnecessary drama.
With three sets standing in the way of Zverev and a second Grand Slam final appearance, perhaps a further headache could potentially arise.