NEW YORK (Reuters) - Four months ago, Alexander Zverev arrived at the French Open as an outside hope for the title and promptly flopped, going out in the first round.
On Monday, the German baseliner will begin the U.S. Open not only as a challenger, but as a confident fourth seed with a very real chance to pick up a first grand slam title.
At 20, Zverev stands head and shoulders above the ATP Tour’s so-called ‘NextGen’ group of players focused on disrupting the domination of Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray and Stan Wawrinka.
Between them, those five have won 52 of the past 57 grand slams, leaving little room for anyone else to prosper.
But while Federer has won two of the three grand slam titles this year - and Nadal the other - Zverev has burst out of the pack, matching Federer with five titles, including wins over Federer and Djokovic.
Having won the title in Washington at the start of August, Zverev backed it up with a first Masters 1000 title in Montreal, where he beat an ailing Federer in the final.
The only thing missing from his resume is success at a grand slam, where he has yet to go beyond the fourth round, but his confidence could not be higher.
“It’s been a positive summer so far,” Zverev was quoted on the ATP Tour’s website. “I beat a lot of top 10 players and have beaten a lot of great players, a lot of tough matches.”
If Zverev has separated himself from his peers, he has done so with humility and a wisdom that belies his youth.
Every time he is beaten or makes what he considers to be a mistake, he seems to learn from it immediately.
Like every champion of this generation, he also seems to be a good judge of character and has put together a world-beating support team.
Murray’s former trainer, Jez Green, who first met Zverev as a 16-year-old, has added muscle to the German’s 6-foot-6-inch frame and he is now a real athlete, seemingly ready for the rigors of five-set tennis at the slams.
In Juan Carlos Ferrero, his new coach, he has added a former world number one who knows how to get it done at the highest level.
Zverev has thrived in the company on Tour of his older brother, Mischa, whose return to fitness and stunning rise up the rankings has been one of the stories of the year.
The younger Zverev has time on his side, but perhaps with the exception of Federer, no one will go into the U.S. Open feeling better about their chances.
“(This is) the best I have ever felt maybe going into a slam,” Zverev said.
“That gives me a lot of confidence, and hopefully I can show that on court, as well.”
Reporting by Simon Cambers; Editing by Frank Pingue