Ben Rothenberg calls out ‘genuinely shocking’ Netflix Break Point episode on Alexander Zverev

If you’re planning on tuning in for the new season of Netflix’s Break Point docu-series, following stars of the tennis world throughout the year, you’ll need to be prepared for something strange. (And, based on the reviews, to be bored.)

Trying to sum up the 2023 season in just six episodes was always going to be tricky, with incredible stories like Novak Djokovic’s brilliant year lifting him clearly ahead in the GOAT race, to Carlos Alcaraz’ stunning Wimbledon triumph over the world No.1, and to Coco Gauff’s breakthrough at the US Open.

But the producers also chose to use up a full episode focusing on Alexander Zverev, the 26-year-old German and recent top-10 fixture who has promised for many years to break the hegemony at the top of the sport, but so far failed.

And as The UK Telegraph told its readers in its review of the program, Zverev’s episode – entitled ‘Unfinished Business’ – will see viewers “cheering on (this) hugely likeable character”.

Which is an interesting take on Zverev given the numerous accusations of domestic violence against him, which he has denied.

Described as “genuinely shocking stuff” by former New York Times writer and author Ben Rothenberg, the treatment of Zverev – which is widely shared across the ATP’s platforms as well – and the question of whether the latest allegations will impact his career place dark clouds over the Australian Open.

Obviously, it must be said that he has deserves the presumption of innocence as he has not been proven guilty in court… with the exception of one German legal system ruling, following an accusation made by his ex-girlfriend and the mother of his child, Brenda Patea.

Patea’s allegations of “physically abusing a woman and damaging her health during an argument” have already seen Zverev fined almost $A750,000 by a Berlin court, along with a ‘penalty order’, which in the German system occurs when a trial is not considered necessary because the evidence is so strong.

Zverev has denied all accusations against him, and is planning to contest the penalty order. It’s worth noting in many sports leagues, like the NRL, players can be stood down while investigations are underway; tennis does not have this policy.

Zverev was also accused by former girlfriend Olga Sharypova of physically abusing her, alleging he tried to strangle her with a pillow and hit her head against a wall before the 2019 US Open, along with other incidents.

The ATP‘s investigation into the claims was inconclusive, while Sharypova did not report Zverev to the police, meaning the matter ended there.

Zverev has been allowed to continue playing through all of these accusations by the ATP, including the ones which have already drawn a sanction by the German legal system and are still being investigated, and has now been elected to the ATP player council – meaning he may need to approve it if the ATP ever creates a domestic violence policy.

It’s this contrast between how tennis treats Zverev and how a growing number of critics view the allegations against him that is so stark.

“There are plenty of other stories that Break Point could have followed in 2023, but what is clear is that Zverev and his team have granted excellent access to the documentary cameras, which is exactly what the show needs for it to be a success. Perhaps Zverev has more reason than most to be so willing and cooperative,” The Independent’s Jamie Braidwood wrote.

“This should not diminish Zverev’s comeback in 2023 or suggest it would not have been a worthy storyline to follow in other circumstances, but to give the German such prominence in what is now a limited series, with no mention of either of the two serious allegations of physical abuse against him, appears to whitewash the 26-year-old’s image.”

Meanwhile, as Ben Rothenberg points out, the nature of what Zverev discusses during his Break Point episode is particularly bizarre.

“There’s a scene where Zverev watches Medvedev lose in R1 at the 2023 French Open and applauds,” he tweeted on Tuesday.

“And then it cuts to Zverev talking about the power in karma.

“This is all surreal enough as is, but even more so when you remember that Medvedev lost that match to Thiago Seyboth Wild, another player who, like Zverev, is facing accusations of abuse from an ex-girlfriend (albeit only one ex-girlfriend). Wild, like Zverev, also denies them.

“The Break Point producers had literal hundreds of options for who to spotlight and profile in Season 2, and they chose Zverev, and chose to do it for him in this way.

“It’s a decision so galling, honestly, that it completely overshadows everything else in the season.

“Zverev and his team, wisely for PR, gave Netflix everything they wanted to achieve this attempted image rehab showcase.”

Zverev heads into the Australian Open as the No.6 seed; he has a semi-final appearance (2020) and quarter-final appearance (2021) on his resume, and is expected to make another solid run after a quarter-final berth at last year’s US Open.

He’s also the reigning Olympic gold medallist, as we head towards the Paris Games.

And unless the Patea allegations take a serious step forward in court – which, again, is a case the German legal system believes is so straight-forward it was worth punishing Zverev for, without a hearing – he is likely to continue at the top of the sport.

Originally published as ‘Genuinely shocking’: Netflix called out over Alexander Zverev Break Point episode

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