World number four Alexander Zverev will use Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal as inspiration when he sets about attempting to improve on his breakthrough season. The 20-year-old has won five titles in 2017 and is regarded as one of the stars of the future on the ATP tour.
Victories at the Open Sud de France, Bavarian Championship on home turf and the Washington Open have been entwined with his maiden Masters Series 1000 wins in Rome and Monteal, where he beat Novak Djokovic and Federer respectively to claim the crowns.
But while Zverev has made an impression on the men's game he has failed to make an impact at any of the four grand slam events, reaching the fourth round at Wimbledon, but crashing out before the last sixteen at the Australia Open, French Open and the US Open – where he was heavily fancied. And to stay at the summit of the sport Zverev admits he must look at the example set by Federer and Nadal.
"I was consistent this year, so that's a part that I've improved in the last 12 months. Always played pretty good tournaments," Zverev said ahead of the China Open, a campaign he started with victory over Kyle Edmund. "I didn't lose a lot of bad matches. Of course, everyone loses bad matches, but I didn't have a lot of them this year. That's a part where I'm happy, the way I improved, the way I got better.
"There's so many things that everybody's trying to improve. I think Roger and Rafa, they are the two best players of all time, but they still improve each year they play. You can never stop. That's something that I'm still going to be working on to get to the top of the game. Hopefully, I can do that."
Victory in Washington and a depleted field at the US Open saw Zverev installed as third favourite for the title behind Federer and eventual champion Nadal, who won his 16th grand slam title in New York after beating Kevin Anderson. Though Zerev was unable to cope with the pressure of being one of the contenders at a major – he was knocked at the second round by Croatian Borna Coric – he is working on coping with the pressure.
"I've been dealing with expectations since a very young age," he added. "Obviously it becomes more and more the higher you are ranked. But I try not to listen too much from what other people expect from me or what other people think of me.
"I do care about the opinion of the people that are close to me, and that is my team, my family, stuff like this. It's nice to hear from great players [about] what they think I might become one day, but this is still all in the future, a work in progress. The getting better part is more important than what other people think about me."