Alexander Zverev sparks concerns in brutal scenes before Australian Open

Playing in his first tour-level event since undergoing surgery last year, Alexander Zverev has looked a shadow of his usual self.

Alexander Zverev, pictured here in action at the United Cup.
Alexander Zverev has struggled in both of his matches at the United Cup. Image: Getty

Alexander Zverev looks a shadow of the player he was before suffering a serious leg injury at the French Open last year after a second drubbing at the United Cup on Monday. The German star, on the comeback trail after badly damaging ligaments in Paris in 2022, lost 1-6 4-6 to Taylor Fritz in Sydney.

In concerning scenes, Zverev lost the first set in just 21 minutes and appeared to be struggling with an elbow issue. Commentator Jim Courier said on Channel Nine: "There has got to be something wrong with his arm.

'WHAT I WANTED': Ash Barty lifts the lid on 'surprise' after retirement

'NOT FAIR': Rafa Nadal's eye-opening move amid Aussie tennis drama

"Fritz is able to stand in closer on return and be more offensive than he was last year when they played here," he added after Zverev continued to struggle on serve. Although Zverev put up more of a fight in the second set, it wasn't enough to prevent Fritz from giving the USA a 1-0 lead in the tie after a match that lasted 64 minutes.

Speaking about his performance in Germany's opening tie against the Czech Republic in which he lost to Jiri Lehecka, Zverev earlier said: "Physically I'm not at the level that I have to be.

"This is not even a question. I'm getting tired I think a lot quicker than I always did. I'm not as fast as I probably was."

Zverev's loss to Lehecka was his first tour match since he was forced to retire hurt against Rafa Nadal in the semi-finals at the French Open. The German's ankle buckled horribly as he was trying to change direction and he later had to undergo surgery. Monday's loss took Zverev's record for Germany in team competitions to 3-8 since 2020.

Alexander Zverev, pictured here during his clash with Taylor Fritz at the United Cup.
Alexander Zverev looks on during his clash with Taylor Fritz at the United Cup. (Photo by Brett Hemmings/Getty Images)

The loss left Germany facing the monumental task of needing to win all four of the remaining matches in the tie to advance to the next round. The Germans entered the tie needing to win 4-1 to have any chance of progressing out of the group stage.

"Just been trying to practice, kind of dial in some of the things maybe that didn't feel great for me in the first match," Fritz said after his win. "It's great, I love playing in team competitions. I feel like I have always performed well in team events - it kind of brings a different energy.

"You care even more because you are playing not just for yourself, but for your team. It brings more pressure into it as well."

Australia and Spain eliminated from contention

Australia will play Spain on Monday night in a dead tie after Great Britain secured top spot in the pool. The Brits beat Spain on Sunday after also taking down Australia in their opening clash.

It means Australia and Spain are already out of contention before their tie even begins. In a positive for fans, Rafa Nadal is scheduled to take on Alex de Minaur in what shapes as an important hit-out for both ahead of the Australian Open.

"He's a great player. Playing super fast. Playing with very high intensity. Taking the ball very early. Improved the serve," Nadal said of World No.24 de Minaur. "(It's) going to be another very tough match that I need to play very well in to have any chance. So let's see."

The Aussies will also be playing without women's No.1 Ajla Tomljanovic, who has withdrawn with an injury in order to be fit for the Australian Open.

Click here to sign up to our newsletter for all the latest and breaking stories from Australia and around the world.