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On November 7, 2022, Alexander Zverev dropped to the 12th spot of the ATP Rankings. Since 2017, the German had never been out of the top 10. His terrible fall in the French Open semi-finals kept him away from the courts for the rest of the season. Zverev: Der Unvollendete, a documentary broadcast on RTL+, unveils the daily life of the former world number two during this painful period.

There are still two things I haven’t achieved: being world number one and winning a Grand Slam”. These are the first words pronounced by Sascha Zverev when he sits down in front of the camera. These two dreams were within reach of his racket during his match against Rafael Nadal on Court Philippe Chatrier. For more than three hours, the German matched the level of play of the ‘King of clay’. They were about to start the tiebreak of the second set when all his hopes vanished: “My first thought really was: did my career just end?”, remembers the German.

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The latest images broadcast on TV were those of Alexander Zverev greeting the referee of the match on crutches. We find him a few days later in Munich where he learns that several ligaments in his ankle are torn. Nevertheless, the technical aspect doesn’t interest him. Only one question occupies his mind in this moment: “I will come back 100% as before, right?”. The doctor can’t guarantee him such results, but Sascha doesn’t let go: “He asked the question again and again until he got the answer he wanted” says Sophia Thomalla.

Fear dominates the faces of the Zverev family, trapped within the four walls of the hospital. While Mischa is worried about his brother’s state of mind and  Alexander Senior thinks about the organization of what is going to follow, Sascha fears that he lost his tennis forever: “Most people are afraid of death, snakes, burglars […]. Personally, my biggest fear is to not be able to fulfill my childhood dream”.

Once the surgery was done, anxiety gave way to determination. The Gold medalist waited about ten days before going to the gym in Monte-Carlo. His brace on his right foot and the crutches in his hand, forced his physiotherapist to wear him on the machines. Even if Sascha Zverev realized how stupid the scene was, he kept on with his exercises: “Numerous studies showed that when you train one side of your body, it goes directly through the nervous system to the other. So, I keep my left leg completely in shape”.

Among these challenging scenes, there are childish moments. Mischa talked about the shower adventures: “The leg can’t be wet, but the little brother is 2 meters tall and weighs 90 kilos. Of course, I was the one who stuck to it” while Irina baptized the kitchen: “I’ve lived in this flat for two years. The stove was used for the first time when my mother moved in” jokes Alexander Junior.

As the weeks went by, recovery intensified. The body strengthened but the mind resisted. Regaining confidence in an ankle after one month of immobilization isn’t an easy task. Back to the gym, Sascha tries to put his foot on the ground: “Now I could walk but I don’t dare”.

Scene after scene, he makes progress. The moment he’s been waiting for finally happens. On August 6, 2022, the two-time ATP Finals winner returns to a tennis court. He shares his feeling in front of the camera: “It was like winning a tournament, I did it […]. I am where I’m supposed to be”. The most meticulous work can then begin. If he quickly regained the effectiveness of his strikes, the movements on the ground were much more complicated: “With every step, every stop, every acceleration, forward, backward, sideways. It is always exactly this part of the foot that is solicited” explains Ulrike von der Groeben.

A month later, Alexander Zverev arrived in Hamburg. He was ready to play at the Davis Cup for the German team. The tennis world couldn’t wait for his comeback. The days before the beginning of the tournament weren’t reassuring. Carlo Thränhardt, the fitness coach of the team, remembers the first training sessions: “We could already see that he wasn’t moving great with his feet and legs”. Despite this first alert, Sascha was determined to make his comeback in Germany: “In the video you can see that I’m limping. Everybody knew it, except me. I was completely lost, I wanted to play. I was stubborn and stupid” remembers the principal concerned.

The German’s comeback on the ATP Tour was retarded to next season. Despite ups and downs during the first months, his slender tennis reappeared on clay. The Philippe Chatrier court that was so cruel to him last year, was part of his success during the 2023 edition. A year after his fall, Alexander Zverev reached the Roland-Garros semi-finals again. He still cherishes his dreams with his fingertips. 

Marnie Abbou

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