By Martyn Herman
LONDON (Reuters) – Alexander Zverev is hailed by German tennis fans as the man most likely to emulate Boris Becker’s Wimbledon feats but it is actually his older brother Mischa whose game has more in common with the three-times champion.
The siblings — the first to both be seeded in the Wimbledon men’s singles since Americans Gene and Sandy Mayer in 1982 — eased into round two on Tuesday using vastly different methods.
While 20-year-old 10th seed Alexander bludgeoned Evgeny Donskoy with his powerful baseline game, Mischa, nine years his senior and seeded 29, dispatched Australian Bernard Tomic with an old-school serve-and-volley masterclass.
“I followed my serve in 99.9 percent of the time today,” Mischa said in an interview with Reuters. “I can only remember one second serve that I stayed back. I come in on every serve.”
He said his Russian father Alexander, a former professional player, had taught him the skills of serve and volley — a tactic only a handful of Tour players still employ.
“When did I realize (I could serve and volley)? When I realized my baseline game wasn’t good enough,” he said.
“I had to come up with a Plan B. My dad was a great serve and volleyer so he knew how to do it and knew how to train. At a young age I started to spend a lot of time at the net and realized it was something that came naturally.”
It was a style that completely flummoxed world number one Andy Murray at this year’s Australian Open when left-hander Zverev pulled off a massive fourth-round upset.
That result reminded the tennis world that there were, in fact, two Zverevs in the highest echelons of the game after several injury-plagued years had seen Mischa, a top-50 player in 2009, slide outside the top 1,000.
The low point came in 2014 when he needed surgery to his left wrist, but thanks to his brother’s emergence it also represented something of a turning point too.
“For four or five years I was not in my best shape,” Zverev, who claimed his first Wimbledon main draw victory for eight years on Tuesday, said. “A lot of injuries and you start not to be as motivated and not to train as hard as you should.
“I remember when my wrist was in a cast, it was the low point. But a week after that Alex got to the semis in Hamburg as a 17-year-old. That moment gave me positive energy, positive emotions to come back and train hard and still believe.
“With him next to me he was always like — you can do it, you can be there, you’re unbelievable, don’t worry you’re going to be top 100, top 50 again, believe in yourself.”
There is the possibility that the Zverevs could meet in the quarter-final. “Our mum told us that, but I’ve not looked at the draw,” Mischa said. “There are a few hard matches left yet.”
A major obstacle would be seven-times Wimbledon champion Roger Federer, who Mischa could play in the third round and who ended his run at the Australian Open. But he must first get past Mikhail Kukushkin of Kazakhstan in the second round.
The brothers share a strong bond and enjoy playing doubles together, including in the Davis Cup, although they are living in separate houses at Wimbledon. Mischa said he was always willing to offer some advice to his younger sibling though.
“Now it’s the grass season there are a few things here and there that I can show him,” Mischa said.
“He listens to people and doesn’t listen to people! He’s in his own little world most of the time and he has certain goals that he wants to achieve and he is so focused on that.”
(Reporting by Martyn Herman; editing by Ken Ferris)