Zverev's Australian Open semifinal run draws attention on and off the courts

As the season's first major was starting, news emerged that a German court set a trial date in May over an assault allegation against him


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Alexander Zverev celebrates his victory against Carlos Alcaraz. — AFP
Alexander Zverev celebrates his victory against Carlos Alcaraz. — AFP

Published: Thu 25 Jan 2024, 6:07 PM

Last updated: Thu 25 Jan 2024, 6:08 PM

Alexander Zverev's run to a second Australian Open semifinal has drawn attention to his business in other courts.

As the season's first major was starting, news emerged that a German court set a trial date in May over an assault allegation dating to 2020 after Zverev challenged a penalty order issued by a judge — a step before a trial.

Since then, Zverev has put together five wins and is two from a title in Australia. He's beaten No. 2-ranked Carlos Alcaraz to set up a semifinal against 2021 U.S. Open champion Daniil Medvedev.

A win on Friday would earn the Olympic gold medallist a spot in Sunday's championship decider against 10-time Australian Open winner Novak Djokovic or No. 4-ranked Jannik Sinner.

And more attention.

Zverev has denied the assault accusations repeatedly. But throughout this tournament, he has not directly answered questions about his legal matters.

After his second-round night match ended in a fifth-set tiebreaker, Zverev was asked if he intended to appear in the German court in person.

“Wow. That’s a question. I just played four hours, 40 minutes,” he said. “That’s not the first question I really want to hear, to be honest. I’ve got no idea. It’s in May.”

The ATP, which runs the men's tour, has remained silent on the issue. Other players on the tour have declined to comment.

Last July, Zverev rejected the allegations after the public prosecutor’s office in Berlin applied for a penalty order to be made. A German broadcaster reported the incident involved Zverev’s former partner.

That move came five months after the ATP said there was “insufficient evidence” to substantiate allegations of domestic abuse against Zverev made by another former girlfriend.

The ATP began investigating from October 2021 after Zverev’s former girlfriend, Olya Sharypova, accused the 2020 U.S. Open runner-up of abuse.

The 26-year-old Zverev has been a top 10 player since 2017 and has won 21 tour-level titles, although none of the Grand Slams.

He has some extra status this year after being elected to the ATP player advisory council.

After his first-round win here, Zverev was asked if it was appropriate that he held a leadership position while the legal matters were pending.

“Why would it not be?” he replied. At the suggestion that there were question marks over his judgement, he responded: “There isn’t.”

He said he believed he had the confidence of the other players, who nominated him for the panel, and added: "I don’t have a reason not to believe that.”

When it was posed to him that people were questioning whether he should be even allowed to play in the tournament, Zverev turned it back on the media.

“Like who?" he asked. "Journalists are saying that, some, who are actually interested more in this story to write about and more about the clicks than the actual truth.”

Zverev has advanced through the early stages of his career as a player of huge potential, but in a generation dominated by the so-called Big Three of Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer, he has been unable to break through at the highest level.

His best run at a major was at the 2020 US Open, where he blew a two-set lead in the final and lost to Dominic Thiem.

In the 2022 French Open semifinal against Nadal, he fell to the clay court heavily after tearing ligaments in his right foot. He needed surgery on his ankle and a long recovery, missing two majors. Then he had another setback in his recovery that further delayed his progress, and resulted in a second-round exit in Australia last year.

He said those setbacks were driving him this year in Melbourne.

“Especially after the injury, I think it did hold me back in a way. I was kind of on top of my game before the injury happened ... at my best level,” he said on Wednesday after beating Alcaraz. “I’m obviously extremely happy to be back where I am and winning these kind of matches, and giving myself the chance again.

“Because last year ... I wasn’t a Slam contender. If I am now, I’m very happy about that.”

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