Two years ago this week, tennis star Alexander “Sascha” Zverev was in New York with his girlfriend, Olga Sharypova, preparing for the 2019 U.S. Open. Zverev had been dating Sharypova for nearly a year; the two had also been romantic in their early teenage years when both were junior tennis players.
It was on that trip to New York, Sharypova told me for a piece published in November by Racquet, that Zverev had covered her face with a pillow until she could no longer breathe, escalating the abuse she said she had suffered for much of their relationship. She said that Zverev’s controlling and possessive behavior had first turned physically violent months earlier, but in New York that violence reached a new level. Sharypova said she ran out of their hotel room at the Lotte New York Palace and fled, barefoot, to the street. “This time, I really was scared for my life,” she told me.
She was picked up by a friend, Vasil Surduk, who drove her to New Jersey. There, she said, Surduk and his stepmother encouraged her to reconcile with Zverev, bringing the tennis player to their house in hopes of a reunion. Both Surduk and his stepmother, whom I referred to by the pseudonym Mrs. V, confirmed their part in Sharypova’s story.
Sharypova continued dating and traveling with Zverev, accompanying him in September to the Laver Cup in Geneva, where she said he punched her in the face for the first time. Distraught and feeling isolated, Sharypova—who is not diabetic—said she injected herself with insulin and locked herself in the bathroom of their hotel room. (An insulin overdose can lead to a hypoglycemic coma or worse.) She said to me, “I injected it, and I wasn’t scared; I just wanted to leave in some way, because I can’t stand it anymore.” Sharypova said Zverev found a Laver Cup official who convinced her to open the door, and she was given what she believes were glucose tablets to counteract the insulin. (The Laver Cup official whom Sharypova named declined to speak to me for the Racquet article.)
My first interview with Sharypova ended, chronologically, with the incidents in Geneva. She hadn’t felt ready or able to tell her entire story in one sitting, so we reconvened again weeks later. In that second interview, she described additional physical and emotional abuse in Shanghai, in October 2019. Those accusations by Sharypova, now 24, are being published in this article for the first time.
Zverev made blanket denials to Sharypova’s accusations last year, calling them “simply not true” in an Instagram post in October, without referring to specific details. He did not respond to a request for comment on the new, specific accusations Sharypova makes in this article.
In a cease-and-desist letter Wednesday morning, one of Zverev’s attorneys wrote that “we have recommended our clients not to comment on your questions.” The letter added that the inquiry was “based on obviously incorrect assumptions and insinuations.”
The ATP—the governing body for the men’s professional tennis tour—does not have a domestic abuse policy, and it has not directly acknowledged Sharypova’s accusations from last year (the ATP also declined to comment on the new accusations in this article). On Aug. 21, it announced that a review of its “safeguarding” policies is in progress, including “those pertaining to domestic violence,” but did not refer to any specific cases. Sharypova told me this month that she has not been contacted by the ATP, nor has she reached out to the organization directly. There is no indication that the ATP has any current plans to investigate her claims.
In the meantime, the 24-year-old Zverev has emerged as one of the best players in the sport. Earlier this month, he won Olympic gold for Germany, stunning the top-ranked Novak Djokovic en route to the men’s singles title. This past Sunday, he won the Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati, and he carries an 11-match winning streak heading into next week’s U.S. Open in New York. Zverev, who came within two points of winning last year’s U.S. Open final, is on the short list of players considered capable of derailing Djokovic’s quest for tennis’s Grand Slam at this year’s tournament.
In our interview last year, Sharypova told me her goal is not to see Zverev punished. Rather, she said she wants to be honest about what happened to her, in the hope that her story might help others.
On Oct. 28, 2020, Sharypova posted a picture of herself to Instagram. The caption, written in her native Russian, said, “I have been beaten and will not be silent anymore.” She wrote that she was a victim of domestic violence but didn’t identify any perpetrator. She named Zverev in an interview later that day with the Russian website Championat.
The ATP put out a statement 16 days later (eight days after Racquet published my story) that didn’t mention Sharypova, Zverev, or any specifics about her accusation. “The ATP fully condemns any form of violence or abuse,” the statement began. “We expect all members of the Tour to do the same, and to refrain from any conduct that is violent, abusive, or puts others at risk.” The ATP added that it would consider responding to an allegation if and when a legal proceeding had run its course. “In circumstances where allegations of violence or abuse are made against any member of the Tour, legal authorities investigate and due process is applied, we then review the outcome and decide the appropriate course of action,” the ATP’s statement concluded. “Otherwise, we are unable to comment further on specific allegations.”
A “legal authorities” standard ruled out any action by the ATP in this case, as Sharypova has repeatedly said that she is not interested in pursuing criminal or civil action against Zverev. And so, for the past 10 months, Zverev has continued to play and win matches on tour, forcing commentators, sponsors, and fans to reckon with his ongoing on-court success and his alleged off-court behavior.
In May, after Zverev won his fourth ATP Masters title in Madrid, the British broadcaster Catherine Whitaker discussed her unease with the “inertia of the situation.”
“His tennis was brilliant this week, but on a personal level, do I find joy in watching it? No, I don’t,” Whitaker said on The Tennis Podcast. “It’s an extremely uncomfortable place to be in. … We’re sort of waiting for some sort of—not resolution, but progress, or action, or something.”
On the sponsorship front, the outlook is also murky. Zverev’s apparel contract with Adidas reportedly ran until the end of 2020, and though he has not been featured in Adidas promotional photos this year, he has continued wearing Adidas clothing on court this season. (Adidas did not respond to requests for comment.)
Marina Caiazzo, global sport marketing manager for the Japanese apparel company Asics, told me that Zverev had been available and interested in signing an endorsement deal earlier this year, but that “the discussion stopped at an early stage” for reasons she said were unrelated to the accusations.
Zverev added a new major endorsement in recent months, however, announcing on Instagram in June that he felt “incredibly honored and proud to join the @rolex family.” Rolex, a prolific sponsor of tennis players and tournaments, launched an ad campaign starring Zverev on Aug. 20, giving him his own page on the Rolex website.
In a statement, Rolex spokesperson Virginie Chevailler said the company supported him as part of its “commitment to the sport,” but had “no comment to make at this stage regarding any potential allegations against him since, to our knowledge, no formal action has been taken to date.”
One tennis star already had his own page on the Rolex website: Roger Federer.
Federer and Team8, the management company he co-founded with his agent Tony Godsick, had invested in Zverev’s stardom. Zverev joined Federer on his lucrative 2019 exhibition tour of Latin America, and he’s been a fixture at the Laver Cup, a Europe vs. rest-of-the-world event that Team8 created.
In January, a little more than two months after Sharypova made her accusations public, Zverev announced that he was no longer being managed by Team8. “We both feel that it’s the right decision to have my family take on a bigger role once again,” Zverev wrote on Instagram.
I asked Federer during a video press conference in May whether the split with Zverev had anything to do with Sharypova’s accusations. “Well, I mean, of course I’m very close to Tony [Godsick] and Team8, but at the same time these are decisions that Tony takes, and the team,” Federer said. “Look, Sascha is a great guy. I’m really happy for him when he does well … and all of the allegations, that’s super private stuff that I really don’t want to comment on.” (Team8 has not responded to requests for comment on the management split, nor on the abuse Sharypova says took place during its 2019 Laver Cup event. It did, however, recently announce Zverev’s return to the Team Europe roster for next month’s Laver Cup in Boston.)
I then asked Federer if the ATP should investigate the accusations or create a domestic violence policy. Federer said that since tennis players are independent contractors not salaried by leagues or clubs, such a policy might be tricky to implement. “Of course there needs to be a certain code, like they have on the court,” he said, but “now you want to move over into the private life as well? I feel like for that we have other sets of rules—governments and all that stuff.”
Even in the absence of a new ATP domestic abuse policy, the incidents Sharypova describes would already fall under the purview of the organization according to its existing rules. “Players shall not at any time physically abuse any official, opponent, spectator or other person within the precincts of the tournament site,” the ATP rulebook states. An ATP spokesperson confirmed that this includes any abuse that takes place at tournament hotels, which are defined in the rulebook as part of the tournament site.
Zverev’s alleged assault of Sharypova at the 2019 Laver Cup took place at an official tournament hotel in Geneva. And it was at another official tournament hotel during the 2019 Rolex Shanghai Masters that, according to Sharypova, Zverev physically attacked her a final time.
For our second interview in November 2020, Sharypova and I reconvened in the house where she was staying in northern New Jersey. Without a translator there to assist her, she spoke in deliberate English, sporadically pausing to put a word or a sentence into a translation app on her phone.
She began by telling me about her state of mind in Geneva in 2019 after Zverev purportedly struck her and she injected herself with insulin. “I spent three—or two days, I don’t remember—and after I wake up and say, OK, I should do something,” she said. “I can’t lay like this and think about how many bad things happened to me. I should figure it out and think what to do after.”
Sharypova said she attended a pre-event Laver Cup banquet and then the Laver Cup matches, including Zverev’s win over Milos Raonic that clinched a come-from-behind win for Team Europe.
“I was happy for him, I was so proud of him,” Sharypova said of Zverev’s victory. “I loved him—of course I was proud.” But she said she also asked for him to acknowledge the hurt he’d caused as she tried to improve her emotional well-being. “It’s not normal that I’m a person who doesn’t want to live, and it’s because of our relationship.”
Sharypova said that, to her disappointment, Zverev did not show contrition. Traveling on tour with him from hotel to hotel, apart from friends and family, also made it hard for her to get steady support.
After the Laver Cup, Sharypova accompanied Zverev to China, where he played in the China Open in Beijing and the Rolex Shanghai Masters. In Beijing, she said, the couple got into another argument, but she said she found Zverev more even-tempered than he’d been in their previous disagreements.
“He was really calmed down and he was more controlling himself,” she said. “For me it was like, OK, now we can live together. Now I feel more protected. Safer.”
The stress of recent weeks, however, had caused Sharypova’s skin to break out, adding to her distress and drawing insults on social media. Sharypova showed me an Instagram account with only one post: a close-up of her facial acne.
In Shanghai, Sharypova was looking forward to being joined by Mrs. V, the stepmother of her friend Vasil Surduk. Mrs. V had given Sharypova a place to stay when she had fled Zverev in New York, and then persuaded Sharypova to go back to him.
“Sascha had said that when we have a wedding, the first invitation will be for her,” Sharypova said.
On Oct. 9, 2019, Mrs. V arrived in Shanghai from her house in Phuket, Thailand, bringing the couple a large bag of fruit as a gift. Sharypova said she unpacked the fruit in the couple’s room at the Kunlun Jing An, the official tournament hotel. She then went with Mrs. V to the tournament, where they watched Zverev win his round-of-32 match over Jeremy Chardy. After the match, Sharypova said, Zverev was scheduled for training and recovery sessions, so she went with Mrs. V to a nearby salon, where the pair planned to get their nails done and have facial treatments that Sharypova hoped would help her skin.
Sharypova said that while at the salon she received a flurry of messages from Zverev.
“He sent me pictures with the fruit and said, ‘Why is this here?’ ” Sharypova said. “He starts to fight with me about the fruits, which I put on his massage table because I was in a hurry.”
Sharypova said that, only three weeks after the incident in Geneva, she couldn’t summon the energy for another fight with Zverev.
“He started saying, ‘Why did I come home and you’re not here? I need to clean this. You’re not here, why are you at the salon, why am I waiting for you? You don’t love me?’ And I was like, ‘What are you talking about? I’m always waiting for you in the room. I’m not fighting with you when you’re somewhere else. Can I have a little space for a few hours to take care of my face?’ ”
When she returned to the hotel room, Sharypova said, Zverev left immediately.
“He said, ‘I was waiting for you. Now you should wait for me,’ ” she recalled. “I understood that when he will come back it will be another fight, another story, and I don’t want it. I asked for help, and I asked for his understanding, but I got nothing.
“I was in the room alone. I was thinking about all this stuff. I wanted to just pick up my stuff and go, but I don’t know where, I don’t know what I’m supposed to do. At this time, because of my nervous system, I didn’t think a lot. I just did it again.”
Sharypova said that, for the second time in a month, she injected herself with insulin while Zverev was not in the room to stop her.
“I just don’t want to fight,” she said, recounting her feelings at the time. “I just don’t have energy for it. I was just lying in bed, and that’s all.”
When Zverev returned to the room, Sharypova said, she was barely responsive.
“He understood that something had happened,” Sharypova said. “I was too calm. When he checked my sugar, it was 30 [milligrams per deciliter]”—a life-threateningly low level.
Sharypova said that Zverev fed her a package of sugar she was too weak to resist. After she began to recover, she said, Zverev berated her again.
“He asked me, ‘Why did you do this to me? You understand what you did to me right now?’ He starts yelling at me and saying that ‘if you will die in my room, it will be big problems for me. It’s really a big responsibility for me. You said that you don’t want to live because of me—why did you say this?’ ”
Sharypova said that she offered to break up with Zverev and fly home to Moscow. Zverev declined, Sharypova said, but he said that she had made it difficult for him to focus on playing his next match.
“ ‘I live with this,’ ” Sharypova says she told him. “ ‘I understand it’s hard for you, but you can realize how it’s worse for me?’ I was writing to people that I didn’t want to live. I was crying, I was always crying. Every day, I was crying.”
Sharypova said she still felt lost when she woke up the next morning, Oct. 10. “I didn’t have feelings, emotions, words,” she told me. “He started to blame me again, and to say that he’s really the victim of the situation.”
Zverev suggested that Sharypova shouldn’t attend his match against Andrey Rublev later that day, and she agreed.
“I was already at the very bottom,” she said. “And he said, ‘If it’s like that, you should pack your stuff and go fuck yourself.’ I said, ‘OK! I will fly to Moscow. You will come back, and I will be somewhere else.’ ”
Sharypova said she went to take a shower, during which Zverev continued berating her from outside the bathroom door.
“When I got out of the shower, I was starting to take a towel and he came and said, ‘Pack your stuff right now and leave,’ ” Sharypova recalled. “I’m just like, ‘OK, can you wait a few minutes please? I’m naked here.’ ”
From there, Sharypova said, Zverev attacked her more violently than he ever had before. She said that he grabbed her by the throat and pushed her up against the hard tile wall of the bathroom.
“He started to punch me, and this time I understand that I can’t be dough for punching,” she said.
Sharypova said she began swinging her arms wildly to fend off Zverev as best she could.
“I was just trying to protect myself,” she said. “I’m already naked. I’m a woman, I don’t have much power. And after my shower, I don’t have time to get my clothes. I don’t feel safe for one second.”
Sharypova said that Zverev was also insulting her amid the physical blows.
“He started to say to me these things: ‘I hope you will die, you should have died yesterday, but not in my room. If you want to die, you can take insulin and go die in the street because I don’t want problems. I don’t want to deal with you anymore,’ ” she remembered. “I’m crying. I say, ‘OK, if you want me to die, give me insulin, I go to the street, and that’s all. I can’t hear this anymore, I can’t handle anymore. What do you want from me? You want to punch me? You already did.’ ”
Sharypova said that Zverev eventually called someone on his phone and left the room. After she locked herself in the bathroom, she said, she heard another voice through the door: Zverev’s father, Alexander Zverev Sr.
“ ‘You have until evening to pack your stuff,’ ” Sharypova recalled Zverev Sr. telling her. “He said, ‘If you don’t leave, I will sue you, because I have photos of how you punched my son.’ ”
“I was naked, sitting on the floor of the shower—all my body burns,” she said. “When he left, I was so emotionally down, I just started laughing. I was crying and I was laughing. His father just was like, ‘You’re trash. We don’t need you.’ ”
When Zverev took the court for his round-of-16 match roughly 12 hours later, there were scratch marks on the left side of his neck. Those marks, which Sharypova told me resulted from their fight, are clearly visible in wire photos as well as in match and interview footage. Footage from his previous match against Jeremy Chardy confirms the scratches weren’t present the day before.
Footage from that Oct. 9 match against Chardy also shows Sharypova sitting in the courtside players’ box. She’s not present in that box for any of Zverev’s subsequent matches in Shanghai, starting with the Rublev match on the evening of Oct. 10.
Sharypova said that two days after Zverev attacked her in the bathroom, she used WhatsApp to send images of her still-bruised face and arms to a close friend she’d confided in before.
Though Sharypova has gotten a new phone since then and did not archive her messages, her friend still has the record of their conversation.
I spoke to Sharypova’s friend, who asked not to be named in this article, last week. She told me Sharypova had spoken to her frequently during her relationship with Zverev, keeping her apprised of what Sharypova described as a pattern of escalating abuse.
“Usually we’re open about anything and everything, but after New York, she was [keeping to] herself more than usual, and I knew something was going on,” the friend told me. “I knew after New York it was going to be even worse. And I told her, ‘Why would you, after all this happened in New York, give him another chance? If he did this once, he’s going to do the same thing.’ Then, a week after we’d spoken the last time, she sent me these pictures.”
“What’s this?” the friend texted in response to the images of Sharypova’s bruises.
“This is Sascha,” Sharypova responded.
“What the hell?” her friend said. “Him again?”
“The same happened in Geneva,” Sharypova answered. “In Geneva he started to punch in the face.”
By making no reference to Sharypova’s accusations against Zverev in its statement in November, the ATP was being consistent with its approach to other recent accusations of domestic violence.
Neli Dorokashvili, the ex-wife of player Nikoloz Basilashvili, pressed charges against her ex-husband in their native country of Georgia in May 2020. (Because of the pandemic, proceedings have been repeatedly delayed.) A representative from Dorokashvili’s legal team told me that they have witness confirmation that Basilashvili had been violent against his wife. Basilashvili has denied the allegations, and his attorney told me that video and audio records would “verify Mr. Basilashvili’s innocence.” Basilashvili’s attorney also said that they “plan to appeal the court with the new case claiming reputational damage.”
Because Dorokashvili did press charges, the ATP, which has not commented on the charges against Basilashvili, presumably will decide whether to act once there’s a court decision in Georgia, or pending the results of its just-announced review of safeguarding policies. In the meantime, Basilashvili has won two ATP titles this year, in Qatar and Germany. (He also lost to Zverev at the Tokyo Olympics.) At Wimbledon in June, the Georgian drew local hero Andy Murray in the first round. Murray was asked about the accusations in his pre-match press conference.
“I spoke about this a couple months ago when I was asked about him and also with Zverev,” Murray said. “Yeah, for me there should be protocols and a process in place when allegations like this are made. … That’s something that the ATP, the governing bodies, the ITF, the Slams should be looking to implement, in my opinion.”
This wait-and-see approach by the ATP is in contrast to the policies outlined by the major North American sports leagues. Jane Randel, the co-founder of the NO MORE Foundation who has consulted for both the NFL and NASCAR, told me that the Ray Rice case marked a turning point in corporate approaches to domestic violence. In 2014, TMZ published security footage of the Baltimore Ravens running back striking his then-fiancée in an elevator and dragging her unconscious body into the hallway. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell initially suspended Rice for just two games; after the Ravens cut Rice, Goodell then suspended Rice indefinitely. (That indefinite suspension was later overturned by an arbitrator.)
Acknowledging its initial mishandling of the Rice case, the NFL introduced a new domestic violence policy in 2014, including a baseline suspension of six games for a first offense. Major League Baseball developed its own new policy in 2015, which ensures league investigations of allegations and gives the commissioner the power to place an accused player on paid administrative leave. (Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Trevor Bauer is currently on paid leave after being accused of sexual assault. Bauer denies those allegations.) The NBA announced an overhauled domestic violence policy in 2017 with similar provisions. Unlike the other three leagues, whose domestic violence policies were collectively bargained with players, the NHL has dealt with domestic violence on a more case-by-case basis. The league began domestic violence training for NHL players in 2016 and has meted out lengthy suspensions for players after conducting internal investigations.
“Why do these policies exist? We’d love to think it’s for moral reasons,” Jon Wertheim of Sports Illustrated and 60 Minutes told me on the No Challenges Remaining podcast. “There are probably, more crassly, business justifications that these teams and management don’t want labor, the players, soiling the brand.”
The structure of its business complicates the picture for tennis. As Federer said to me, the players are not employees. And unlike the NFL, the tennis tour does not neatly fall under one country’s laws. But the ATP is capable of conducting internal investigations, and has publicly done so recently for incidents including Sam Querrey fleeing Russia on a private plane after testing positive for COVID-19 during a tournament in St. Petersburg.
Olga Sharypova is a Russian national accusing a German national of abuse that she says took place in Monaco, the United States, Switzerland, and China. Even if Sharypova decided that she wanted to press charges or file a lawsuit, it’s unclear what legal or law enforcement body she would go to.
But the nomadic nature of the tour could be an argument for the ATP to play a larger role in cases of alleged domestic abuse, rather than a smaller one. The one unifying factor across those disparate jurisdictions—particularly in Geneva and Shanghai, where Sharypova said abuse took place in official tournament hotels—is the tour.
Mrs. V told me she traveled to Shanghai in 2019 with her youngest son, a sports fan, “to see the happy reconciliation” of Zverev and Sharypova—the couple she had worked to reunite in New York a month earlier. She sat courtside next to Sharypova in Zverev’s player’s box during his win against Jeremy Chardy on Oct. 9.
“The next day, in the afternoon, we were supposed to get in touch,” Mrs. V told me. “But by 2 o’clock, nobody had gotten in touch, nothing. All of the sudden, Olya”—a diminutive of Olga—“calls my number and says that she’s in a bad situation, she doesn’t know what to do, she’s screwed, she has no money, no place to stay. I said, ‘Come up.’ ”
Mrs. V said that at this point she wasn’t sure what had happened between Zverev and Sharypova. She said that Zverev was continuing to text her, wanting her to convince Sharypova to reunite with him once more.
“She was all blue-green, crying and everything,” Mrs. V told me. “If I saw something, maybe some scratches, I didn’t take pictures or make a big deal out of it. I never thought it was going to come to this point, and since the guy was still talking and wanting her back, and I wasn’t exactly sure what happened, I didn’t know what to do. All I could do was keep her safe, which I did.”
Mrs. V said Sharypova told her about how she had injected herself with insulin for a second time after their argument. Mrs. V said that it made her furious.
“I was nasty with her,” Mrs. V said. “I told her she has no right to play with her own life like that, because she has parents who love her, she’s only 20-something years old.”
Mrs. V showed me a text exchange she had with Zverev from Oct. 10, 2019. In those texts, written in Russian, Zverev acknowledged Sharypova’s two incidents of insulin self-injection.
“I spoke harshly to her about the insulin,” Mrs. V wrote.
“It’s not the first time,” Zverev replied.
Fearing that she might harm herself a third time, Mrs. V refused to allow Sharypova to travel back to Moscow as the Zverevs had wanted.
“Even if she had a companion, I wasn’t sure she was going to be safe from herself,” Mrs. V said.
Instead, Mrs. V booked a larger room at the Kunlun Jing An and had Sharypova stay there with her while her son continued to attend the tennis tournament.
“I stayed with Olya. I didn’t even leave the room, basically,” Mrs. V said.
On the last day of the tournament, as Zverev played Daniil Medvedev in the final, Mrs. V flew with her son and Sharypova to her home in Phuket, where the two would stay for the next two months. Mrs. V said that she kicked her husband out of their shared bedroom so that she could stay closer to Sharypova.
“I also felt responsible because I was the one who pushed her back to him in New York,” Mrs. V said. “I came back to see a happy ending, and instead of that I had no other choice to take her back with me to Phuket. Thank God Russians don’t need a visa to travel there.”
Though Zverev and Sharypova would not see each other in person again, they didn’t immediately break up. Zverev continued to message both Sharypova and Mrs. V in the following weeks, pleading for Sharypova to return to him.
“These two months he was always writing to me, he was always trying to fix our relationship,” Sharypova said.
Sharypova, then, was taken aback when another woman, German model Brenda Patea, appeared in Zverev’s player’s box during the Rolex Paris Masters, less than three weeks after she had last seen him. Sharypova said that Zverev emphatically denied, to her and Mrs. V, having a relationship with Patea.
Sharypova said that Zverev tried to prove his devotion during his exhibition tour of Latin America with Federer in late 2019. Calling her on FaceTime, Zverev got on one knee and proposed to Sharypova.
Mrs. V showed me WhatsApp messages from Zverev in English that appear to confirm this. “I PROPOSED TO HER. … I was just on my knees And Said i give her the ring when I see her,” Zverev wrote to Mrs. V on Nov. 21, 2019.
“I have a proposal by FaceTime,” Sharypova said, laughing. “If some girl says she has the worst proposal in her life? Darling, no. I have a story for you.”
Sharypova said she last spoke to Zverev in December 2019.
Zverev responded to Sharypova’s accusations publicly on Oct. 29, 2020, one day after she named him in an interview with a Russian website. In an Instagram post, he said that Sharypova’s claims were “unfounded” and “simply not true.” And at press conferences in the days that followed, Zverev emphasized how little Sharypova’s claims were affecting him.
“I do realize now that there’s gonna be always people that will not want the best for you, and there’s always going to be people that try to put you down when you’re on top,” Zverev said on Nov. 7 after beating Rafael Nadal in the semifinals of the Rolex Paris Masters. “It’s up to me if I’m going to let that happen. You know, I feel like I’m doing quite a good job of not letting that happen, and I’m still enjoying myself. As long as you still have a smile at the end of the day, I think that’s the most important in life.”
Zverev expressed similar thoughts after losing in the final.
“I know that there is going to be a lot of people that right now are trying to wipe the smile off my face,” Zverev said during the trophy ceremony. “But under this mask, I’m smiling brightly. I feel incredible on court. I have the people that I love around me. I’m probably going to be a father very soon, so everything is great in my life. The people that are trying, they can keep trying, but I’m still smiling under this mask, even though you can’t see.”
A week later, at the ATP Finals in London, Zverev changed his approach. This time, he read from prepared notes on his phone.
“I have to stick to my initial thing of them being just untrue and continue to deny them,” Zverev said. “It makes me sad, the impact that such false accusations can have—on the sport, on the outside world, on myself as well. I truly apologize that the focus has shifted away from the sport. We all love playing tennis. That’s what we’re here to do.”
In the months since then, Zverev has said little publicly about the accusations against him, and is rarely asked about them in interviews. Though Sharypova’s accusations are frequently posted about on social media, she is seldom mentioned in television broadcasts of Zverev’s matches.
The conversation may be changing, however. During the Tokyo Olympics’ gold medal match, commentators on NBC and the Olympic Channel addressed the abuse accusations more fully than had previously been done on American television.
After studio host Tessa Bonhomme summarized Sharypova’s accusations between sets, commentators Mary Carillo and Darren Cahill criticized the ATP’s lack of action during the first game of the second set.
“Oh, come on, let’s be honest, the ATP has been poor and negligent in addressing this,” said Cahill, who coaches the Romanian player Simona Halep. “And this is not just about Alexander. … We have integrity units for drug breaches, for gambling breaches. Surely, internally, we can investigate this stuff at a bare minimum.”
In addition to Andy Murray, most players I have spoken to, including top-ranked Novak Djokovic, have been broadly supportive of the ATP adding a domestic violence policy.
John Millman, an Australian who serves on the ATP Player Council, which represents player interests in governing decisions about the tour, told me earlier this month that the need for a domestic violence policy has been discussed by the council. “We can be a bit more proactive with this,” said Millman. “It’s not only good optics, but it’s having good moral fibers, too.”
The ATP did not make any officials available for interviews on this topic, but inquired several times about the timing of this article’s publication. This past Saturday morning, Aug. 21, the ATP put out a press release announcing an “independent” and “comprehensive” review of its safeguarding policies, as had been discussed by the player council. (The statement, like its earlier statement in November, was not posted to the ATP’s social media platforms; a tweet with a link was posted after the statement was released, but quickly deleted.)
The statement marks a clear pivot from the ATP’s previous wait-and-see philosophy. “To date, ATP has typically deferred to legal authorities in cases of abuse before determining if further internal action is warranted under the ATP Code of Conduct,” the statement said. “The report is expected to set out a number of recommendations to elevate safeguarding across the organisation and identify opportunities for more proactive involvement. Following its completion, ATP will evaluate its recommendations and possible next steps across a range of safeguarding matters, including those pertaining to domestic violence.”
“We recognise that we have a responsibility to be doing more,” ATP chief executive Massimo Calvelli said in the statement.
Instituting a domestic violence policy comparable to those of other sports will come with complications for tennis. Because players earn prize money for each match and are not paid a base salary by the ATP, it wouldn’t be simple to suspend a player with pay pending an investigation, as is the case in other sports.
An ATP spokesperson told me the independent report “should be expected at some point in Q4.” In the meantime, Zverev will play on, at next week’s U.S. Open and beyond, with neither sanction nor exoneration from the sport, and no clear resolution on the horizon, even as the ATP now seems ready to take responsibility for what happens on its tour.
Sharypova moved back to Moscow earlier this year. When we spoke on FaceTime this month, she told me that she’s been working with a psychologist to help her process her relationship with Zverev, and to learn how to be able to trust again. “I understand that I’m scared because of my story,” she told me. “I can’t change my past, but I can change my future.”
“Now I understand that my peace will be when I forgive him for all of these things,” she added. “After that, I can live my life.”
Sharypova also told me she had encountered difficulties when she began applying for jobs after moving back to Moscow, with multiple companies not wanting to hire her after learning about her public statements against Zverev.
“In Russia, at good companies, they’re checking you,” she said. “When they saw me in interviews speaking out, telling my story to the world, they said, ‘Oh, there’s too much problems with this girl—no.’ Now, I’m working for a good company with great people, but I don’t want to say where I’m working. I enjoy my work.”
(Sharypova said that because of her job search, she deleted her initial Instagram post referring to domestic abuse and locked her account earlier this year. She said that she still stands behind her story and everything she said in our interviews.)
In our interview in November, Sharypova said she had a message for Zverev. “I want to ask him: Why can’t you say the truth? It’s not about me, it’s about your life,” she told me. “You should be honest with yourself.”
At the same time, she insisted that her decision to come forward wasn’t about him.
“I wanted to be public, to be honest with all of you,” she said. “Many girls in this situation are silent. They don’t speak about it because they’re afraid of comments that it’s not true and stuff like that. I just wanted to show that it’s not hard to speak about it. It already happened in real life, you already lived it. You know that you said the truth, you know that you’re not a bad person, and you didn’t deserve this.”