Over three consecutive seasons, Hopman Cup fans have been witness to an astonishing evolution in Alexander ‘Sascha’ Zverev.
The serve became bigger, the groundstrokes more ferocious and with impressive dedication, his natural athleticism developed with devastating effect.
Other measures are made by fast-chasing stats. After his appearance as an 83rd-ranked 18-year-old in 2015, the German returned as a world No.24 in 2017; at Hopman Cup 2018, still just 20, he arrived as the world No.4.
There are other signs, too, that the confident Sascha is settling in among the greats.
With his five titles of 2017, Zverev was the most accomplished German male since Boris Becker in 1996. Last season he also become the youngest winner of an ATP Masters title since Novak Djokovic in 2007 and in qualifying for the elite eight-man field at the ATP Finals, he was the youngest to play the event since Juan Martin del Potro in 2008.
Now comes another chance for the 20-year-old to underline that he belongs among the game’s most elite.
As he lines up for today’s final at Mastercard Hopman Cup, Zverev well knows that Michael Stich, Becker, Goran Ivanisevic and Federer are among the male Grand Slam champions who’ve helped their nations forge to the team title.
Female greats Steffi Graf, Monica Seles and Serena Williams join those players on the Honour Roll.
At Perth this week, Zverev is delighted to have another former world No.1 in Angelique Kerber by his side.
“I almost screwed it up by myself,” he smiled after an upset at the hands of Thanasi Kokkinakis in the team’s last round robin tie against Australia, before the German duo secured their final with a three-set win in the mixed doubles.
“It’s amazing but I’m going to give all the credit to Angie. Angie played unbelievable in both of her matches. She’s the reason we are in the final.”
There has also been a loss this week to world No.7 Belgian David Goffin in Perth – reminding the youngest man at Hopman Cup 2018 of the hard work required for consistent success.
Not that Sascha has ever been shy to the sacrifices required to continue on that path. Both losses in Perth were followed by a late-night return to the court to fine-tune form.
“That’s how I grew up,” said Zverev, the son of coaches Mischa snr and Irena, and the younger brother of Mischa, also a player on the professional tour.
“That’s how I was born and raised, you know, being one of the hardest workers on tour. If something doesn’t go well I don’t leave it for tomorrow I try to repeat it today and try again … it pays off in the end.”
Zverev will need all of that work ethic and more in the final, where he faces Federer in a repeat of the thrilling 2017 round robin encounter in which he stunned the prolific champion in three tiebreak sets.
“I didn’t play my best yet but hopefully I can play better and better every single match,” said Zverev last night.
“I felt I played today better than I did the past few days even though it is still far from my best.”
That Zverev still has obvious room for improvement is arguably one of the most exciting aspects of his rise – and few would doubt his ability to find his best form in the final today.
On a glittering resume on the main tour, Zverev has two wins in the five matches he played against his childhood idol. One of them was in Montreal, where he stunned Federer 6-3 6-4 for his second title at Masters level.
Still, the already-worldly Sascha knows that today’s match against the Swiss star will almost certainly be different again.
“You can’t really compare and I think he’s someone who feels the ball well,” he said of Federer. “It doesn’t matter where he goes and it doesn’t matter how much he practices but hopefully it’s going to be another entertaining (match).”
Entertaining, too, for the fact that Federer is the man with which the gifted and dedicated German is so often compared. As he targets another early milestone in a sparkling career, Sascha is another step closer to joining the greats.