Alexander Zverev emerges as top French Open contender as questions grow over rivals

Zverev is in excellent form though is set to go on trial during the year’s second grand slam at Roland Garros

Associated Press
Monday 20 May 2024 10:50 BST
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Alexander Zverev secured the Italian Open in a statement performance ahead of Roland Garros
Alexander Zverev secured the Italian Open in a statement performance ahead of Roland Garros (AP)

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Louise Thomas

Louise Thomas

Editor

Top-ranked Novak Djokovic hasn’t won a tournament all year. Record 14-time French Open champion Rafael Nadal has been far from his best. Jannik Sinner and Carlos Alcaraz have been out injured. And Daniil Medvedev has won only one clay-court title in his career.

Considering the state of his rivals in the top five, Alexander Zverev’s credentials entering Roland Garros are looking pretty good following his second Italian Open title.

The clay-court Grand Slam in Paris starts this weekend.

“I’m somebody that I know when I don’t play well, I can lose to anyone, but when I play well, I know I can beat anyone. That’s my mindset. That’s how I think about it,” Zverev said after raising the trophy in Rome. “I know I have to focus on myself, to find my rhythm in Paris the way I did here. Then everything is on my own racket.”

Zverev won 44 of his 49 service points in a 6-4, 7-5 victory over 24th-ranked Nicolas Jarry 6-4, 7-5 in Rome on Sunday to earn his biggest trophy since a gruesome ankle injury two years ago.

Alexander Zverev beat Nicolas Jarry to win the Italian Open
Alexander Zverev beat Nicolas Jarry to win the Italian Open (AP)

It’s been a long road of recovery for the fifth-ranked Zverev after tearing three ligaments in his right ankle during the 2022 French Open semi-finals against Nadal.

In all, Zverev has reached three consecutive semifinals at Roland Garros — which has led him to declare it’s the tournament he wants to win more than any other.

“It’s the one where I have the most memories, good or bad,” Zverev said. “US Open, yes, I was two points away from winning the title. Of course, that’s also one that kind of sticks out. (But) Roland Garros, so close to being in the final in 2021, I felt like I was playing some of the best tennis of my life in 2022. Those kind of things, they are still in the back of my mind. That’s the one that I want to do well in.”

That loss in the 2020 US Open final to Dominic Thiem remains the closest that the 27-year-old Zverev has come to winning a Grand Slam title. Having been in the top five of the rankings for years, claimed Olympic gold in Tokyo three years ago and won the ATP Finals twice, a Grand Slam title is the only big thing missing in his career.

And if Zverev is going to contend in Paris, he’s going to have to do it while dealing with a major distraction.

Alexander Zverev will go on trial in Germany from May 31
Alexander Zverev will go on trial in Germany from May 31 (Getty Images)

Zverev has disputed a penalty order from a German court over allegations that he caused bodily harm to a woman and he will go on trial in his home country starting on May 31 — entering the middle weekend of the French Open.

Zverev is accused of physically abusing and damaging the health of a woman during an argument in Berlin four years ago. He said in Rome that he won’t attend the start of the legal proceedings.

Zverev, who moved up one spot to No. 4 in the rankings released on Monday, shared an emotional moment over the weekend with his father and coach, who is also named Alexander Zverev.

While Zverev kept his composure on the court, dad was teary eyed in the stands during the trophy ceremony.

“A father is always important, no matter who it is,” Zverev said. “Obviously in my career super important. It’s funny because we actually have a great relationship — which is not always the case, a father-son, father-daughter relationship when they’re coaching them as well. You see it a lot of times, it’s very shaky. But we have a great relationship outside as well.”

Alexander Zverev has reached three consecutive semi-finals at Roland Garros
Alexander Zverev has reached three consecutive semi-finals at Roland Garros (Getty Images)

A few years ago, the elder Zverev was missing from the player’s box due to medical issues.

“I’m going to have him around as long as he wants to,” the younger Zverev said. “It’s obviously a special moment for all of us, given the circumstances that this is my first Masters after the injury. There was obviously a lot of uncertainties whether I was going to be back at this level.”

Zverev’s mom, Irina, was also courtside, along with the family’s two dogs.

In Paris, however, the Zverevs won’t be the only high-profile entourage.

Djokovic has entered a small tournament in Geneva this week to get more match preparation in before heading to the French Open, and Sinner and Alcaraz have been back on the practice courts following hip and right forearm injuries, respectively.

“Nole is going to be at his best. You’ll see. It’s just the way it is,” Zverev said. “Rafa is going to play a lot better than he did in Madrid and Rome. I’m certain about that. The other two, they just depend on health. If they’re healthy, they’re two of the best players in the world for sure and there’s no question about it.”

But there are no questions about Zverev’s form entering Paris.

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