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Alexander Zverev Showcased Star Potential at Indian Wells 2016

Joe Kennard@@JoeKennardFeatured ColumnistMarch 17, 2016

Zverev during his fourth-round run at the 2016 BNP Paribas Open.
Zverev during his fourth-round run at the 2016 BNP Paribas Open.Julian Finney/Getty Images

On the precipice of a signature win against decorated champion Rafael Nadal, 18-year-old prodigy Alexander Zverev finally showed his age.

The lanky, long-haired German teen found himself up 5-2 in a decisive set, eventually holding match point on his own racket. But nerves crept in at the finish line after he dumped a routine volley into the net, and Zverev fell short of his first victory against a Top 10 opponent.

Even in that fourth-round defeat at Indian Wells, he reinforced just how bright his future looks.

Zverev reached that clash with Nadal after tough wins over Ivan Dodig and Grigor Dimitrov and a 6-2, 6-2 beatdown of 19th-ranked Gilles Simon. Those results propelled him into uncharted waters: the middle stages of a Masters Series event.

Facing a determined Nadal, Zverev made a statement with inspired play. His full arsenal of weapons were on display, as well as his current shortcomings.

Always easier from the couch .... Zverev is so legit it's scary. He'll be very good for a long time https://t.co/ZaHJcJZpSX

— andyroddick (@andyroddick) March 17, 2016

A towering 6'6", Zverev possesses effortless power on his serve thanks to a fluid motion and high ball toss. He regularly hits over 130 mph on first serves and can impart some nasty topspin on second serves. Even Nadal had trouble reacting to it. 

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He's equally impressive on the baseline. A hard-hitter from both wings, Zverev uses a masterful two-handed backhand that he can hit up the line for winners or crosscourt to take control of points. For many players, that stroke is a weakness; for him, it's a deadly tool. 

Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

As blazing as his shots are, Zverev is becoming more patient with them and constructing points better as he gains experience. Rather than go for broke, he showed in Indian Wells that his game is built to endure long rallies.

Despite his frame, Zverev is a surprisingly agile mover, similar to Marin Cilic or Juan Martin Del Potro. That athleticism gives him a lethal combination of size, power and speed.

What hurt him in his loss to Nadal was a lack of consistency in pressure situations, an area that can only be improved through more experience. And that match should be a valuable lesson for him to remember as he tries to take the next step.

In an interview with ATPWorldTour.com, Zverev spoke about his desire to improve physically with the help of fitness coach Jez Green:

I have been working on that for the past two years now with Jez. I think we did great in the past few years, but I think there is a lot more work that has to be done from the physical part, as well.

I think that's probably one of the biggest parts of the game these days. Playing on a daily basis with those kind of guys, with the big guys, you have to be really, really strong.

Sustaining your top level over the course of several sets is tough for any tennis player, especially so at the highest stages of the game. The physicality of his fight with Nadal took a toll, reinforcing why more gym time will be key for him moving forward.

Putting on muscle and getting stronger shouldn't be a problem—he'll get there in due time. Until then, the mental maturation process will continue for Zverev as he acquaints himself to the rigors of the ATP circuit.

Because of his strong week in the California desert, he'll crack the Top 50 for the first time in the career. His peers expect him to soar much higher in the coming years. 

Prior to their meeting, Nadal spoke glowingly of Zverev and saw No. 1 potential. As quoted by Tennis.com's Kamakshi Tandon, Nadal elaborated by saying: "He's an amazing player. He has all the shots. Very good physical performance. Tall, good serve, first and second; great shots from the baseline, forehand and backhand. He has everything to become [a] big star, and he's playing well.”

Get used to those kind of superlatives regarding the rising star.

His stay in Indian Wells proved short, but the impression Zverev made there won't be forgotten. He sent a clear message to the rest of the tour that he's aiming for the top.

All statistics are courtesy of ATPWorldTour.com unless otherwise noted.

Joe Kennard is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report.

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