Why Mindfulness Matters with Alexander Zverev
An exceptional talent when it comes to the highs and lows in life and how mental strength helps him achieve his big goal of becoming the best tennis player in the world.
Despite his young age, Alexander Zverev has seen and experienced a lot in his life. He is the second-youngest player to rank in the ATP Top 10, became World Champion at the age of 21 and, for some years, the only way he knew was up. But then he had to realize that this is not how life always goes and that in order to get to the top, it takes more than outstanding talent and a great serve.
Mental strength is everything...
I guess for every professional athlete, but especially for a tennis player like myself, mental strength is key. When you go out on the court, it's just you. Unlike in team sports, you only have yourself to rely on, so without the right mindset, you don’t stand a chance.
I was very successful at an early age: I reached my first ATP 500 semifinal in my hometown of Hamburg at the age of 17, won my first Masters when I was 20, and became World Champion at 21. But then I suddenly hit my first wall in 2019. I had a lot of issues in my personal life, and I didn't know how to deal with them. Mentally, that was very tough, because I had never been in a situation like this. I was used to moving forward, climbing up the ranking, just getting better… but it’s not always how life goes.
Learning to deal with your own expectations…
2020 started off badly. I got to the ATP Cup, and I was exhausted. I was ill. The serving problems that I had in 2019 came back, and I lost all three matches. I had no chance of winning any of those matches. I was not the player that I wanted to be.
Right after that, I went into the Australian Open with no expectations. I wasn’t thinking about getting to the quarter- or semifinals. I knew I just had to take it match by match. The good thing about this situation was that it made me very relaxed.
I play at my best when I don’t feel the pressure and I go into a tournament with no expectations.
With each match, I started playing better and better. Suddenly, I was in the quarterfinals and I hadn’t even dropped a set, but then those expectations crept in again. I lost the first set 6-1 within 20 minutes. I slowly started to get back into the match and won the next three sets. I was in the semifinals of a Grand Slam for the first time in my life.
Cutting a long story short, I lost to Dominic Thiem in the next match, but I soon realized that despite this defeat, I’d already won so much at that tournament. I had learned so much about myself and the mental aspects of the game.
Work on yourself during the good times, not when things go wrong…
In the life of a professional athlete, you will have the highest highs and the lowest lows. You can go from being a World Champion one year to having the worst time of your career the following year. That’s just how it is.
Getting caught up in the lows is the biggest mistake that you can make. You shouldn’t try to evaluate everything when times are tough, you should try to find ways to get better when you’re on a high.
Looking back to when I was world number three, I should have pushed myself even further, right then. It’s easy to make changes when you are in a panic, but the best time to really improve is when you are successful, when things are stress-free and your head is in a good place.
When you’re faced with challenges, take inspiration from those around you…
Pressure is a tricky thing, and it pops up at the strangest of times. During these times, just take a step back and spend some time with your friends or your family.
For me, my family is everything, and I owe them a lot for helping me to become the tennis player that I am today. My parents moved away from the Soviet Union back in 1991 and came to Germany—a country where they didn’t speak the language, where they didn’t know anybody, and they had to start completely from scratch.
They both worked extremely hard and taught my brother and me everything we know. That makes me appreciate everything that I have right now so much more. They made me who I am today. I know who I am. I am Alexander Zverev, and I know that one day, I will be the best player in the world.
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