Brain Game: Zverev's Low-Key Backhand Led To Rome Title
German shows his biggest weapon may not be his flashiest
Alexander Zverev's serve and forehand steal the limelight, but don't be fooled: It's his backhand that carries more of the workload, and is relied upon the most to elevate him up the Emirates ATP Rankings.
Twenty-year-old Zverev defeated Novak Djokovic 6-4, 6-3 in the final of the Internazionali BNL d’Italia on Sunday, shaking up the pecking order in the tennis world and surging into the Top 10 along the way.
Zverev's serve was impressive in the final. He hit seven aces, winning 84 per cent (27/32) of first serve points and 69 per cent (9/13) of second serve points. He didn't face a single break point for the match. The German's forehand was also strong with five winners, including a 161kmh (100mph) inside-out winner with Djokovic serving at 2-4, 15/0, in the first set. It was a scorcher and a clear show of strength from the back of the court.
Consider Zverev's backhand numbers from the final:
• Zverev 3
• Djokovic 1
• Zverev 7
• Djokovic 21
Zverev's backhand was basically three times as good as Djokovic's when you compare winners and errors. Zverev's backhand is stunningly simple, loading the racquet head above the wrists early in the backswing, and then rotating quickly into contact with a clean, circular motion that generates extreme power.
In the head-to-head backhand battle, Zverev's backhand owned the day over Djokovic's on Campo Centrale. An analysis of what shot forced Djokovic's 21 backhand errors gives further weight to the dominance of Zverev on this side.
Djokovic's 21 Backhand Errors
• 14 came from a Zverev backhand
• 7 came from a Zverev forehand
Zverev's backhand is so good that, certainly from an analytical standpoint, it could easily be mistaken for another forehand in disguise. Leading into the Rome final, Zverev averaged hitting his topspin forehand at 125 kmh (78mph). His backhand was almost identical, at 123 kmh (76mph). Normally there is around a 13kmh (8mph) difference in forehand and backhand speed among the Top 10 players, but not so with Zverev.
Djokovic said post-match that he wasn't able to get any rhythm on his returns, which was certainly seen in Zverev's return speeds coming in much faster than his opponent’s.
Average Return Speeds
1st Serve Return Speed
• Zverev 121kmh (75mph)
• Djokovic 95kmh (59mph)
2nd Serve Return Speed
• Zverev 133kmh (83mph)
• Djokovic 112kmh (70mph)
The power, depth and direction of Zverev's returns and groundstrokes constantly had Djokovic on defense in the rally. Zverev has been widely discussed as a star of the future, but the future, evidently, is today.