This is getting awkward.
Alexander Zverev, the German tennis star set to face trial in May on a domestic abuse charge, keeps dicing with elimination from the Australian Open, which would save the sport from a subject that no one wants to talk about.
Then the world No 6 staves off defeat, escaping tight tiebreakers and five-set battles every other day. Zverev, 26, raises his arms. He answers chummy questions from a tennis personality — questions that never hint at the allegations and the upcoming trial in Berlin.
That’s what happened today (Monday) when Zverev won a fifth-set tiebreaker for the second time in a week, beating the British No 1 Cameron Norrie, 7-5, 3-6, 6-3, 4-6, 7-6(3). It was a tight, nervy duel in which Zverev’s big serve, as fierce as ever in the final stages, won it for him.
Zverev, who this month became a member of the ATP Player Council, which serves as the voice of players on the men’s tour, will face the world No 2, Carlos Alcaraz, in the quarter-finals on Wednesday. Minutes after his victory against Norrie, Zverev and interviewer Nicholas Monroe, a retired doubles player, were leading the Margaret Court Arena in singing Happy Birthday to Zverev’s father.
The charges are also rarely discussed on his televised matches, even though this is the second time that a former girlfriend has accused Zverev of physical abuse. The first led to a 15-month investigation, which concluded early last year and found “insufficient evidence to substantiate published allegations of abuse”. On both occasions, Zverev has denied any wrongdoing.
Why Alexander Zverev is allowed to play despite domestic abuse allegations
The latest allegations come from Brenda Patea, the mother of Zverev’s daughter Mayla. In media interviews and claims filed with German legal authorities, she has alleged that Zverev pushed her against a wall and choked her during an argument in 2020. Patea said she told friends about the incident at the time but did not report it to police until October 2021 because of a mixture of shame and concern for their daughter, who was born in March 2021.
In October, a criminal court in Berlin issued a penalty order, fining Zverev nearly $500,000 (£393,000) in connection with Patea’s charges. In Germany, a prosecutor can seek a penalty order on cases it considers simple because there is compelling evidence that should not require a trial. The defendant has a right to contest the order, which Zverev has.
Speaking at the Paris Masters in November, Zverev described the penalty order as “complete bulls***”, adding, “Anybody that has a semi-standard IQ level knows what this is all about.” The player did not expand on the reasons for his objection. “I’m not going to comment on that to be honest because there is a procedure still to come,” he said.
A trial has been scheduled for late May, at the same time as the French Open. Zverev is not required to attend the trial and said last week he does not know if he will. His lawyers have called the legal process “scandalous” and said Zverev would take action “using all means possible”. The player will be considered innocent until a final ruling is made.
Another former girlfriend, the Russian former tennis player Olya Sharypova, said that Zverev repeatedly abused her in 2019 in New York, Shanghai, Monaco and Geneva. Unlike Patea, Sharypova never involved the criminal justice system, making her allegations in a lengthy article in the online magazine Slate and on social media.
The ATP decided to take no further action in January 2023 following a 15-month independent investigation that included extensive interviews with Zverev, Sharypova, and 24 others including family, friends and other players, as well as analysis of text messages, audio files and photographs. The investigation, carried out by the third party The Lake Forest Group, decided there was not enough evidence to substantiate Sharypova’s allegations.
Zverev has always denied any wrongdoing and said that the only people who are suggesting there is anything inappropriate about his participation in this tournament, on the tour and the Player Council, are members of the press.
“Journalists are saying that — some who are actually interested more in this story to write about and more about the clicks than the actual truth,” Zverev said last week.
Days after he made that statement, Sloane Stephens, the former U.S. Open champion who recently stepped down from the WTA Player Council, said someone facing trial on domestic abuse charges probably would not be representing players in the WTA.
“The ATP kind of beats their own drum,” Stephens said. “They do what they do on that side.”
“It’s a difficult situation,” Stephens added. “Someone very prominent in our sport… I think now that he will be going to trial and be facing whatever he is facing (the issue may be put to rest).”
Zverev has continued to play throughout the investigations and legal wrangling because the ATP does not have a policy prohibiting it. The other main governing bodies in tennis that could be involved — the four Grand Slams and the International Tennis Federation — have followed the tour’s lead and decided to let the legal process wind its way through the courts before coming to any decision.
Asked on Monday why he had wanted to join the Player Council and what issues he wanted to focus on, Zverev ticked off several matters related to the structure of the tour and the playing demands that athletes face.
“Playing for 11 months a year is too much,” he said. Adding events to the tour “is maybe getting a bit out of hand and a bit too much, as well. There’s just all of those discussions. But they’re very nice discussions. Nobody’s fighting in there, nobody’s screaming or shouting. We are all there to achieve the same thing and have a better tour”.
He did not mention safeguarding, or the accusations leveled against him in the past three years.
At this Australian Open, no one wants to talk about it.
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(Top photo: Julian Finney/Getty Images)