It’s a mystery.
Who is this elegant German? And is he still healthy? And does he still belong on the ATP World Tour? And, furthermore, is the ATP World Tour helping a player with a health issue?
That was the question asked on Wednesday, when Alexander Zverev announced in a statement that he was withdrawing from the Italian Open with “a stomach virus” that has “affected his energy.” The world No. 4 has played only a handful of tournaments since winning his second career title in Munich at the end of June. He has played only one match since Aug. 25, dropping his opening set at the Rogers Cup on Aug. 28 in Montreal before losing in the next round.
His condition was thought to be dehydration. But after checking with doctors, Zverev and his team decided to get some IV fluids to supplement the anti-diarrhea medication he’d already been taking. Zverev didn’t practice Wednesday, but he was able to watch some matches. He wasn’t listed on the tournament’s entry list.
Two days after Zverev’s withdrawal was announced, when it looked as if the German wouldn’t be competing at the Italian Open, it was announced that the Italian Open had not made its entry list, raising speculation that the tournament did not want him to play. Officials later confirmed that Zverev did not play.
Zverev was one of the highest-ranking players to deal with a viral illness earlier this season. At the Citi Open in Washington, D.C., Zverev fell behind Roger Federer, who had defeated Zverev in three sets, 6-4, 7-6, in the semifinals. The two players, who had known each other from their junior days, hugged after Federer won, then stayed in contact by phone for the remainder of the event.
Zverev withdrew, seemingly just as simply, and Federer went on to win in four sets.
ATP rules require anyone withdrawing from a match to “call or show up at the referee’s office to obtain the backing of an ATP supervisor.”
But there is no ATP supervisor assigned to the Italian Open. Like most ATP events, the tournament is run out of an office in Rome. Or is it an office in Moscow? Either way, Zverev was left to seek medical attention on his own.
“I feel a little bit at home in Rome because of my girlfriend,” Zverev said after withdrawing from the German Open. “I do all of my physiotherapy here in Rome. So, for me, I’ve been staying here for a couple of years now. But I think I have some right to come here.”
That part was a joke. But the entire episode was interesting.
Zverev is in a unique spot. First, there is the medical issue, and the question of whether the ATP supports Zverev.
There has been a rising chorus of dissent in the past several weeks about the ATP’s various health protocols. Following Federer’s withdrawal from the Citi Open due to injuries, American John Isner said that the ATP, or at least a large part of it, was conspiring to keep him from playing in the French Open. Isner thought he may have to play in four major tournaments to get a wild card — the French Open already has a wild card policy — and thought the ATP was preventing him from playing. That protest was backed up by some top-ranked players, such as Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Angelique Kerber.
Now, after Zverev, there is another high-profile player who has had trouble this season, and a medical issue has become a potential problem. Whether Zverev’s illness is even related to an illness or an injury, and how that illness affects him at a tournament that supposedly isn’t strong enough to have its own doctor, is an interesting situation to analyze.