Tennis: Opportunity and risk: Zverev starts Paris mission against Nadal

Opportunity and risk: Zverev starts Paris mission against Nadal

Starts as a title favorite at the French Open: Alexander Zverev. photo

© Alessandra Tarantino/AP/dpa

The form is right, the competitors are weak: Alexander Zverev starts as a title favorite at the French Open. But the draw for him is amazing. There is also a risk of distraction at home.

As a welcome gift from the hotel there were red peonies, which welcomed organizers of the French Open Alexander Zverev, on the other hand, has a great draw: The Olympic champion will start his title mission in Paris against none other than record champion Rafael Nadal. This was the result of the draw on Thursday afternoon.

For Zverev it is an opportunity and a risk at the same time. With a first-round victory, the Hamburger can not only spoil the Spaniard’s farewell to his favorite tournament, but also underline his own ambitions for the first Grand Slam title of his career. On the other hand, an opening match against the clay court king and crowd favorite is the most difficult task imaginable that Zverev could face.

Both had already faced each other at the Stade Roland Garros in the memorable semi-final two years ago, when Zverev twisted his ankle towards the end of the second set and suffered a serious ankle injury.

For Nadal, it is very likely to be his last appearance at his absolute favorite tournament. The 37-year-old Spaniard is constantly plagued by injuries and has announced that 2024 will probably be his last year on the tennis tour. Nadal, who is not seeded in Paris this time due to his many injuries, has so far achieved his best clay court result this year in the round of 16 at the Masters 1000 tournament in Madrid.

At the Masters 1000 event in Rome, the former world number one clearly failed in two sets against Poland’s Hubert Hurkacz in the second round. Zverev won the tournament in the Italian capital and celebrated a perfect dress rehearsal for Paris. The German number one is aiming for his first Grand Slam title in Paris.

Becker and Petkovic are confident

“The last two years have been very difficult,” said Zverev, who fought for a long time to catch up with the world’s best after his foot injury. “I didn’t know if I would ever be able to play on this stage again.” He gave himself the answer with his Masters 1000 triumph last Sunday in Rome. He was celebrated in Italian newspapers as “Alexander the Great.” Will his coronation now follow in Paris?

“The stars are extremely well aligned” – with these words, Germany’s tennis icon Boris Becker predicted a successful tennis year for his successor in 2024 months ago. Given Zverev’s top form and the weakening competition, the chances have increased again.

“It’s always a bit unfair because it puts more pressure on him to win,” said former player Andrea Petkovic on Sky. “I would rather say: He can.” In the best Barack Obama style, Petkovic also threw a motivating “Yes, you can!” to the Hamburg player in front of the camera.

Jan-Lennard Struff also has legitimate hopes of reaching the second tournament week at Roland Garros after his ATP victory on clay in Munich. In the women’s competition, former world number one Angelique Kerber wants to do much better in her second Grand Slam tournament after returning from maternity leave than she did in the first round of the Australian Open. But from a German perspective, only Zverev has a realistic chance of winning the title. Even if the Nadal draw is a stunner.

Zverev’s competitors are weakening

This is also reflected in the world rankings, where the 27-year-old has moved back into the top 4 for the first time since his serious foot injury. A pleasant side effect: This means he can avoid the three other big tournament favorites Novak Djokovic, Jannik Sinner and Carlos Alcaraz at least until the semifinals – assuming they all start at all.

Like Nadal, all three have recently struggled with injuries. One thing is clear: Zverev wants to take his chance and is not afraid of taking any risks. He wants to play his “most aggressive tennis,” he stressed.

How does the start of the process become noticeable?

What speaks against him? The start of the trial on the charge of assault at the Tiergarten District Court in Berlin, scheduled for May 31st during the French Open, could possibly affect his concentration. The topic was already taken up by international media during the Australian Open and Zverev’s opponent was also questioned about it. At the time, he said, he did not feel distracted by it.

Zverev is to pay a fine of 450,000 euros (90 daily rates of 5,000 euros each) for bodily harm. However, he denies the accusation and has filed an objection. He is accused of physically abusing a woman during an argument in Berlin in May 2020. The alleged injured party appears as a co-plaintiff in the proceedings. Zverev does not have to appear in court himself. Zverev is presumed innocent until he is legally convicted.


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