MELBOURNE: Trying to win a Grand Slam had turned into an obsession for Alexander Zverev but learning to relax outside the court and keeping expectations in check have worked wonders at this year's Australian Open, the 22-year-old German said on Wednesday.
Zverev was once considered one of the leading 'Next Gen' contenders to break the Grand Slam hegemony of Novak Djokovic, Rafa Nadal and Roger Federer who have shared the last 12 majors between them.
He beat Federer and Djokovic on his way to the season-ending ATP Finals title in 2018 but had never made it past the last-eight stage at the Grand Slams before.
Zverev broke that "barrier" on Wednesday when the seventh seed recovered from a slow start to beat former champion Stan Wawrinka 1-6 6-3 6-4 6-2 to reach his first major semi-final.
"I was very impatient. In a way, also was maybe paying attention to it too much, to the Grand Slams," Zverev said. "I was just playing better tennis at the other tournaments. At Madrid, Rome, other Masters, the World Tour Finals.
"The Grand Slams maybe meant too much for me. The Grand Slams were always the week where I kind of wanted it too much. I was doing things in a way too professional. I wasn't talking to anybody. I wasn't going out with friends. I wasn't having dinner. I was just really almost too, too focused."
Zverev arrived in Melbourne lacking confidence after losing all three of his singles matches at the inaugural ATP Cup, which also meant there was hardly any spotlight on him during the initial stages of the Australian Open.
As he progressed through the tournament, he felt stress-fee, happy on court and off it.
"I'm doing much more things outside the court. Maybe this is a stepping stone. Maybe this is how it should happen," said the former junior Australian Open champion.
Zverev would, however, not take home any money if he lifts the trophy on Sunday as the German has pledged AUS$10,000 for every match he wins and his entire AUS$4.12 million (£2.1 million) first prize money to bushfire relief.
The German said his fellow players in the locker room did not believe him in the beginning.
"My parents grew up in the Soviet Union, where you were a professional tennis player, my dad would make money outside the country, but he would have to give it away when he was getting into the country," he said.
"They always said that money is something that should cause change in the world and should be put into a good thing, not keep it in a bank account and do nothing with it.
"Of course, if I win the US$4 million, it's a lot of money for me. I'm not Roger, I'm not (basketball great) LeBron James, something like that. This is still big."
(Reporting by Sudipto Ganguly; editing by Pritha Sarkar)