Alexander Zverev 'never ever wants to hear' about his case again, but tennis remains in limbo (2024)

Friday was all very neat and clean for Alexander Zverev.

In the morning, the powerful German world No 4 who has lately appeared on the verge of breaking into the sport’s highest echelon, settled his domestic abuse case in Germany. By agreement of both parties, Zverev retained his presumption of innocence at a cost of €200,000 ($218k).

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In the evening, he played a Grand Slam semifinal and won it, making the French Open final for the first time.

“I told you so from the start,” he told everybody.

When pressed on whether he had any disappointment with the Tiergarten District Court in Berlin not delivering any kind of verdict, he went on the attack.

“That’s what dropping the case is. That is innocence. They’re not going to drop the case if you’re guilty at the end of the day,” he said.

“I don’t know what translations you have, but that’s what it means. Done. We move on. I never ever want to hear another question about the subject again. That goes out to everybody.”

Zverev, in his tennis and in his life, now believes he has certainty.

First, the tennis. After a sloppy first set against an inspired Casper Ruud — a French Open finalist the past two years — Zverev took full advantage of his opponent wilting with a stomach bug and kicked into his highest gear of the tournament, beating Ruud 2-6, 6-2, 6-4, 6-2.

He will play Carlos Alcaraz in the final on Sunday, the second Grand Slam final of his career, an achievement that caps his comeback from tearing three ligaments in his ankle at the French Open two years ago.

Alexander Zverev 'never ever wants to hear' about his case again, but tennis remains in limbo (1)

Alexander Zverev has said that he was not ready to win a Grand Slam earlier in his career. (Tim Goode / Getty Images)

Prone to nerves at the back end of Grand Slams, Zverev played with a loose arm and spring in his legs for most of the night. He cracked serves that put Ruud on the defensive and he leaned into his strokes to keep him there in the moments when he most needed to. He finished Ruud off with a 130mph ace that was far from his hardest serve of the night.

“He was putting on a clinic today,” Ruud said of Zverev.

The German has won 11 consecutive matches and hasn’t lost one in more than a month, climbing to No 4 in the rankings, his highest position since his injury. In Paris, he has barely survived some matches, twice needing five sets to win, once in a match-deciding tiebreak, but he has dominated others.

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Alcaraz, the 21-year-old Spanish sensation also playing in his first French Open final, and seeking a third Grand Slam title on three different surfaces, should have his hands full on Sunday. That’s the tennis. Zverev can find certainty there. He wins a Grand Slam, or he doesn’t. Tennis, one of the most complex sports there is, provides that in its biggest moments.

No matter how hard he may protest it, Zverev does not have that certainty off the court.

For months now, his domestic abuse case has put tennis — its players, governing organizations, and fans — into a legal and moral limbo. Zverev has always denied the charges, and now, the German legal system, along with the mutual acquiescence of Zverev and his ex-girlfriend, and mother of his child, Brenda Patea, has essentially guaranteed that a state of purgatory will continue, perhaps forever.

Perhaps that is fitting.

The six organizations that oversee men’s tennis have avoided getting involved with that limbo by punishing Zverev and preventing him from playing tennis while the charges and case were live. The ATP Tour has no specific policy on players who commit or are accused of committing domestic violence, policies that the major North American sports leagues, the Premier League and a host of other sports organizations have adopted during the last seven years, since the beginning the #MeToo movement in 2017.

It does have a “code of conduct” which grants the ability to suspend players who have “engaged in conduct contrary to the integrity of the Game of Tennis.”

The 2024 ATP rulebook states that:

“A player, or related person, charged with a violation of a criminal or civil law of any jurisdiction may be deemed by virtue of such charge to have engaged in conduct contrary to the integrity of the Game of Tennis and the ATP Members Fines Committee may provisionally suspend such player, or related person, from further participation in ATP tournaments pending a final determination of the criminal or civil proceeding.”

GO DEEPERAlexander Zverev is a French Open favorite - while his domestic abuse hearing begins

The ATP did not enforce this code in Zverev’s case. Itjustified this position by embracing some high roads — the principles that people are innocent until proven guilty and that taking action could influence the legal process.

That has allowed Zverev to continue playing amid the charges and ensuing trial. The same goes for Thiago Seyboth Wild, a Brazilian player who appeared in court in Rio de Janeiro in summer 2023 to respond to domestic violence allegations from his ex-girlfriend. That case has not yet been resolved, and Seyboth Wild requested that no questions were asked about it at the Chile Open in February this year.

Seyboth Wild though, is ranked No 58, and rightly or wrongly will not spark the sort of turmoil of a player who is the defending Olympic champion and has won some of the biggest titles in the sport, including the Italian Open last month.

Zverev has been at the center of this discussion since 2021, when U.S. publication Slate published allegations from another ex-girlfriend, Olya Sharypova, who said that Zverev assaulted her multiple times in 2019 in New York and China. Zverev denied the allegations, Sharypova never engaged the legal system, and the ATP Tour funded a nine-month private investigation that in January 2023 found insufficient evidence to warrant a punishment. Zverev and Sharypova both participated in the investigation.

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The ATP said it would soon hire a director of safeguarding to come help come up with a policy. More than a year ago, the ATP Tour hired Andrew Azzopardi, who led Malta’s national Safeguarding Commission and served as a case manager for England’s Football Association, to become its director of safeguarding.The tour has said that Azzopardi is working on a policy on spousal abuse charges, but no such policy yet exists.

In the meantime, Patea filed her charges with law enforcement officials in Berlin, and in October, the judge in the case issued a preliminary judgment, known as a penalty order, fining Zverev €450,000 ($489,000; £384,000) in connection with the charges. In Germany, a prosecutor can seek a penalty order on cases it considers simple because there is compelling evidence that it should not require a trial, or cases for which the possible punishment does not amount to more than one year in prison.

The defendant can appeal the order, and retain the presumption of innocence. Zverev did. Still, the ruling bodies of tennis stayed silent, allowing Zverev to continue to play, and putting him and the sport back into the state of purgatory. The ATP Tour went one step further, allowing Zverev to run for the Player Council, which works to establish the tour’s rules and policies. He won, and the tour’s board of directors allowed him to assume his position.

WTA Tour players Sloane Stephens and Iga Swiatek criticized the process earlier this year, especially the ATP Tour’s decision to give Zverev a position on the players’ advisory board.

“Would that happen on the WTA Tour?” Stephens said in Australia. “Probably not.”

World No 1 Swiatek, who normally tries to steer clear of controversy, said, “For sure, it’s not good when a player who’s facing charges like that is kind of being promoted.”

At the time, Zverev denied the allegations, and suggested that Patea had an ulterior motive.

“Anybody that has a semi-standard IQ level knows what this is all about,” he said at the time, without expanding on it.

At the trial that began last Friday in Berlin, his lawyers contested Patea’s credibility. On the first day they requested that the trial occur behind closed doors. The judge granted the request after Patea’s team agreed to it. Additional hearings took place Monday and Tuesday. Another was scheduled for Friday morning, roughly eight hours before Zverev was due to face off against Ruud.

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Then came the announcement of the settlement that followed discussions between Patea’s legal team and Zverev’s, for which the prosecutor requested discontinuation. Under the German legal system, this is not a confirmation of the impetus for discontinuation coming from the plaintiff. It is a procedural element, in which any agreement reached between parties has to be ratified and approved by the prosecutor and presented to the judge for approval, no matter what it is.

The code officials used for the settlement, Section 153a of the German code of criminal procedure, applies to crimes that carry a prison sentence of no more than one year. It is not a verdict, and it allows Zverev to retain his presumption of innocence, but the court does not declare that he is not guilty either.

He will have no criminal record, but he has to pay a monetary charge of €200,000 ($218k). Of this, €150,000 goes to the state treasury, the rest goes to non-profit organizations. This is not a fine, nor is it court costs — the German word is “Geldauflage,” which literally translates as “money stipulation.” Under Section 153a, it is a payment made to secure the dispensing of court action.

Lawyers for both parties have not commented on whether or not the out-of-court settlement also includes a financial component.

“The decision is not a verdict and it is not a decision about guilt or innocence. One decisive factor for the court decision was that the witness has expressed her wish to end the trial,” said Inga Wahlen, a spokesperson for Tiergarten District Court. “The defendant agreed to the termination of the case.”

Zverev’s legal team understandably seized on the first part of those provisions.

“Alexander Zverev has agreed to this discontinuation via his defense lawyer, solely in order to shorten the proceedings – above all in the interests of their child,” his lawyers, Dr. Anna Sophie Heuchemer and Katharina Dierlamm, said in a joint statement. “Alexander Zverev is considered innocent. The dismissal does not constitute a finding of guilt or an admission of guilt.”

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All true. The statement made no mention of the financial stipulation that would have gone away had a judge formally declared him not guilty.

And so, Zverev took the tennis court as man presumed innocent, but also as someone who has paid a significant amount of money to dispense with spousal abuse charges. The legal process is discontinued, but discontinued in this case means he is neither guilty nor innocent.

Zverev may see this as the certainty he wants, saying “it means innocence.” The statement from the Tiergarten court says it does not.

Whether tennis officials, whose organizations still have no specific policy on this sort of behavior, make any moves, remains to be seen.History suggests they won’t. They have taken every opportunity to steer clear of the subject.The ATP Tour and Netflix produced an hourlong episode of the Break Point, the promotional series about the sport, that portrayed Zverev as an underdog fighting back from the ankle ligament tear injury he suffered at Roland Garros in 2022.

It made no mention of the domestic abuse allegations.

(Top photo: Antonio Borga / Getty Images)

Alexander Zverev 'never ever wants to hear' about his case again, but tennis remains in limbo (2024)
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