Tennis season length 'ridiculous', says rising star
Alexander Zverev labelled the length of the tennis season "ridiculous" after appearing to run out of steam against Novak Djokovic at the ATP Finals on Thursday (AEDT).
The 21-year-old German was playing his 74th Tour match of the season and after staying with the world No. 1 for nine games he collapsed to a 6-4 6-1 defeat.
"The issue is that our season is way too long. That's the issue. But I've said it before," Zverev, whose 55 match wins this year is more than any other player, told reporters.
"We play for 11 months a year. That's ridiculous. No other professional sport does that."
Djokovic and former star Yevgeny Kafelnikov later weighed in on the matter. Kafelnikov blasted Zverev's attitude, saying the issues he's facing now aren't any different to what the pros who came before him had to deal with.
Adding to concerns about scheduling is the International Tennis Federation's revamped Davis Cup tournament - set to feature 18 national teams fighting for the title over one week of competition - being scheduled to take place at the end of the season, starting from November next year.
Zverev said earlier this week he won't be representing Germany because it's too tough an ask so late in the year. "The Davis Cup has some serious issues to think about. One of them is the dates," he said.
"I think the date is very important and I think none of the top players will play, except Rafa (Nadal) because it's in Spain."
However, Zverev did say he would play in the ATP World Team Cup in January 2020, which is being touted as a rival challenger to the new Davis Cup format that divided the tennis world earlier this year.
Speaking after his win over Zverev, Djokovic said having two rival tournaments based on similar foundations packed so closely together on the schedule doesn't bode well for the sport.
"Obviously the Davis Cup and World Team Cup situation is delicate," Djokovic said. "We find ourselves in this kind of particular circumstances and situations that we have to deal with right now.
"I think in the next two years we'll have both events happening in a very similar format, if not the same, six weeks apart. I honestly don't think it's good for the sport.
"I think it's not sustainable. It will happen that we will have two average events. So I think creating one event is an ideal scenario and I think outcome for everyone.
"From what I've heard from conversations with people from all of the sides, different sides in this sport, they all want to have one event because it's over-saturated with different cups, different events.
"We have to try to focus on quality rather than quantity."
Despite being widely-tipped as a future Grand Slam champion, Zverev has yet to go beyond the quarter-finals at any of the four majors.
He already owns three Masters 1000 titles though, including this year on clay in Madrid.
Zverev has hired eight-time grand slam champion Ivan Lendl in a move to get him to the next level and Djokovic believes that is a sound move that will pay dividends.
Djokovic also said fans should be patient with the likes of Zverev and fellow youngsters like Croatia's Borna Coric and Greece's Stefanos Tsitsipas as they seek to make their breakthroughs in the sport's biggest events.
"I know you guys might be a little bit rough on them," he told reporters. "I think there is a lot of quality in the new generation. Zverev is obviously the leader of that next generation. He has proven himself.
"Obviously Lendl is one of the biggest legends of our sport. Having him in your box as your mentor, as your tennis coach, is very valuable. He's definitely on the good path."
Zverev missed out on a semi-final berth on his debut at the season-ender last year and will need to beat John Isner on Saturday to have a chance of sticking around for the weekend.
"I've got one more group match to play here. We'll see how that goes," said Zverev, who opened his round-robin play with a win over Marin Cilic. "I think I'll take it as a normal quarter-final match at a normal tournament."