We are into the quarterfinals at the 2018 US Open. No matter what happens in the final days of the event, we already know that one of the major storylines of this year will be Alexander Zverev’s failure to get to the second week. Zverev’s third round loss to Philipp Kohlschreiber makes the 14th loss at a slam, 13 of which have been before the quarterfinals. With this slam record, what hopes does the twenty-one year-old have for getting that elusive first Major?
With 9 career titles, including 3 Masters, Alexander Zverev is hands down the most accomplished men’s player of the ‘Next Gen’. It’s the kind of record that should give him full bragging rights among his peers, that is, until you put that record along side his performance at Grand Slams.
Zverev loss at the US Open this year makes the 13th time he has lost in the first week of a Major, the only exception being his 1 quarterfinal loss in this year’s French Open. This record has created such a discontinuity between Zverev’s tour and slam performances that fans must be wondering if he has a slam curse.
But is it too early to write Zverev’s Grand Slam potential off? Have players who have won a Major title had comparable struggles before getting there?
To get an idea of how much we should be frustrated by Zverev’s results at slams, we can look at how disappointing the results were of players who eventually won a slam up until their first Major win. In quantifying our disappointment we don’t want to simply look at the number of losses, because a loss in the final will generally be less disappointing than a loss in the second round, for example. Instead, we tally the expectations for a win in matches than the player actually lost, which will be a bigger sum the more matches a player lost that he was statistically expected to win.
On the basis of this measure, Zverev has a ‘slam disappointment score’ of 7.6 over his 14 US Open losses. That means he has effectively lost nearly 8 matches at slams that he should have won. His most disappointing loss so far was when he went down to Ernest Gulbis in the R32 of this year’s Wimbledon.
At this stage, that slam record puts Zverev among the top 20 most disappointing paths to a slam title (assuming he were to ever get a slam title). Below, we see that there have been 16 player’s in the Grand Slam Open Era that have had even more frustrating paths before an eventual slam win. Goran Ivanisevic being the all-time biggest under-performer before his first slam, with a effective total of 25 losses before his 2001 Wimbledon title that should have been in the bag.
Interestingly, Zverev’s new coach, Ivan Lendl, takes the 11th spot on the list, having had roughly 10 losses he should have won at slams before his first title at the 1984 French Open. So, as deflated as Zverev must feel after his exist in New York, his career is still on track toward a Major trophy and he still has time to one-up his coach in getting there.