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Returning healthy is all family cares about as Alexander Zverev strives for US Open glory

Tennis star Alexander Zverev gives CNN's Patrick Snell an insight into the US Open tennis "bubble."

Posted: Aug 27, 2020 9:40 PM
Updated: Aug 27, 2020 9:40 PM

It's sport in the year 2020. Or more precisely, the first tennis grand slam of a global pandemic.

This year's US Open -- which starts on Monday -- will take place in New York City albeit with no fans in attendance.

It's an unprecedented first for the players there too. Germany's Alexander Zverev is among those living inside a "bubble" right now -- what he calls a "once in a lifetime experience."

READ: Tennis players face death threats and online abuse as soon as they step off the court. Tech companies are trying to stop it

The world No. 7 is currently residing in one of the tournament's official hotels with competitors limited to a support team of just three.

"I'm somebody that travels with the family all the time, I'm always around my dad, my mother, my brother as well, and they're all not here which is for me, a little bit weird so I traveled here only with my physical trainer and my physio," the 23 year-old told CNN from his private suite at Arthur Ashe Stadium.

"None of my coaching staff or team members want to go here, they didn't feel safe. I respect that, so I was not pushing them towards it."

Also with him in the Big Apple is the coach of his brother and fellow tennis professional, Mischa Zverev. The older Zverev -- who's not playing in this year's US Open -- is 10 years Alex's senior. He is a mentor to him both on and off the court and even though he'll be a continent away in Europe, you can be sure he's keeping a close eye on his sibling's progress.

"I think my concern or the whole family's concern is like, not how far you make it in the US Open," Mischa Zverev told CNN Sport, relaying a message of familial love. "We want you to come back healthy and once you come back, you want the whole team to come back healthy and as quickly as possible.

"And that's all we care about, that's all we really care about."

Meantime back at Flushing Meadows, Alex is shedding more light on life inside the US Open "bubble" from the suite afforded to seeded players in the absence of fans.

"On the site where normally there's millions of people, they built a mini golf course and they built some basketball hoops and they built a lot of things just for us players, which is a great experience for us," Alex explains.

"But obviously, we do miss the crowd, we do miss the people because the emotions that it gives us playing in front of 20,000 fans is something that we're not going to get this year."

And then there's the issue of safety.

"I feel safe," revealed the tournament's fifth seed. "We're getting tested, we've been getting tested every second day in the first few days, and now every fourth day, and I feel like they're doing a great job of testing everybody and trying to keep it as safe as possible."

"We can't only think about ourselves right now. We have to think of everybody else. We have to think of our team members. We have to think of other players."

Sibling rivalry

Alexander " Sascha" Zverev -- who won the 2018 season-ending ATP Finals -- is quick to pay tribute to the "massive impact" his older brother Mischa has had on his life. Indeed, when it comes to the Zverev family, there's no question tennis really is a family affair.

Their parents -- Alexander Zverev Senior and mom Irina -- are themselves both distinguished former players.

Is it genuinely a case of brotherly love when it comes to Mischa and Alex? For sure, but don't discount some rather intense sibling rivalry too over the years despite the 10-year age gap and the fact it took over 500 tour-level main draw matches before they emotionally met on the ATP Tour for the very first time.

"Oh, it got dirty and ugly a few times, but it was always a lot of fun," reveals Mischa, whose career-high singles ranking is 25.

"We stopped playing board games a few years ago because we figured it's just not healthy, it's not safe, and we try to limit it to like practice matches on the tennis court and a few other things. But like board games, basketball, one on one, we just, we said it's safer if we don't do that anymore."

The older Zverev -- who recently became a father -- says he's extremely proud of all his younger brother has achieved so far in the sport but does point out there's one thing he simply can't stand.

"I don't care about winning, I just don't want to lose to him. That's the main goal!"

2020 success

This year has already proven to be eventful for Alex Zverev. In January, he advanced to the Australian Open semifinals -- the first time in his career he's reached the last four of a grand slam event.

The young German's early season momentum was stopped in its tracks though by tennis' Covid-19 shutdown during which time he competed in the controversial Adria Tour event in the Balkans.

This week he returned to competitive action at the precursor to this year's US Open, the Western & Southern Open where he suffered a round of 32 defeat to Andy Murray on Monday.

There's no question these are unprecedented times for all connected with the sport with new perspectives shaped along the way.

"You learn that tennis, at the end of day, is not everything," Alex said. "There's more important things and that you really have to take care of the people that are around you, that you love.

"I kind of went to Europe by myself, and I was alone for about one and a half, two months without my parents, without my brother, without anyone else, and you just learn to appreciate little things more."

He added, "I think I've got more disciplined ... I had to really grow up in a way, because I had to train myself, I had to go through my daily life myself, rocery shopping, food, everything like that, I had to do it myself, which I never used to do."

Munich mania

And there' something else the Zverev brothers have in common -- their mutual devotion to all things Bayern Munich.

Bayern last weekend became the champions of Europe for a sixth time. The siblings even took part in an online training session with the Bavarian giants earlier in the season.

A tough workout? Yes, very much so. Mischa described the experience as "extremely cool" even if it did mean a 5 a.m. start while Alex expressed his pride in the team as well as his ongoing friendship with Bayern superstar Thomas Muller.

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