If it were any other tournament, anywhere else on the planet, Germany’s Alexander Zverev may well have given it a miss, but this is the Davis Cup by Rakuten Finals in his hometown of Hamburg.
World No. 2 Zverev has not played competitively since suffering ankle ligament damage during his semi-final showdown with Rafael Nadal at Roland-Garros in June – an injury that left him stricken and in significant pain.
The 25-year-old, who won men’s singles gold at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, subsequently endured a prolonged spell on the sidelines and had not recovered sufficiently to contest this month’s US Open. However, he is now primed for a return in national team colours.
Zverev joins Oscar Otte, Jan-Lennard Struff, Tim Puetz and Kevin Krawietz in Germany’s squad for the Davis Cup Finals Group Stage, and he has every intention of performing his national service with distinction.
“To be honest, if it had been any other tournament then I would probably have still taken some further time off to get myself ready, but to play in my hometown of Hamburg is very special,” Zverev told daviscupfinals.com.
Like I say, if it was any other event then I might have given myself some more time, but I just want to be here and help the team
“I am really looking forward to getting back to competitive action. I was actually very good in accepting the injury because it happened while I was on a tennis court, and it happened while I was playing Rafa Nadal at Roland-Garros.
“If it was an injury that came out of stupidity, if I was skiing or snowboarding – something like that, then that might be a different story, but it happened while I was playing tennis and that made it easier for me to accept.
“For sure, I am looking forward to getting back on court and I am looking forward to playing for Germany in Hamburg. Like I say, if it was any other event then I might have given myself some more time, but I just want to be here and help the team.”
Inspiration from the past
Zverev was in blistering form during his last Davis Cup outing in March’s Qualifier in Rio de Janeiro when his two singles victories propelled Germany to a win over Brazil, securing their place at the 2022 Finals.
They will now go head-to-head with France, Australia and Belgium in the Group Stage of the Finals, which is taking place across four European cities – Hamburg, Bologna, Valencia and Glasgow – with play starting on Tuesday.
The top two teams from each of the four groups will advance to the quarter-finals of the tournament, with the Knockout Stage to be held in Malaga from 22–27 November.
Germany has been crowned Davis Cup champions on three occasions but not since 1993, which was four years before Zverev was even born, although his preparations for this week have featured someone who was most certainly alive back then.
I am happy that he came here, and it was lovely to see him have fun. That’s what our sport can do
On Saturday, Zverev had a hit with 98-year-old Leonid Stanislavskyi of Ukraine, who is regarded to be the oldest competitive tennis player in the world and is a hugely popular figure on the ITF World Tennis Masters Tour.
Indeed, Stanislavskyi has been mobbed wherever he has been since Russia began its invasion of Ukraine in February and, together with all Ukrainian players who continue to compete as war rages back home, has become a symbol of hope and defiance.
In the weeks following Russia’s advance into Ukraine, Stanislavskyi remained in his Kharkiv residence – his home for more than 60 years – and vowed that having survived World War II, he would live beyond the current conflict.
As the bloodshed and devastation continued – at one stage he revealed that the “sound of explosions were everywhere” – Stanislavskyi made the heart-wrenching decision to flee Ukraine and seek sanctuary.
It was an arduous journey but having made his way to the Slovakian border, the nonagenarian eventually met with his daughter, Tanya, in Lublin, Poland. He has since spent time in Lithuania and has now added Zverev to his list of admirers.
“It was so special to play with Leonid,” said Zverev. “It shows that you can enjoy tennis at any age, and it was very enjoyable. After everything he has been through, I am happy that he came here, and it was lovely to see him have fun. That’s what our sport can do.”