It's a staggering statistic that Alexander Zverev or Sascha as he prefers to be known, has never won a Grand Slam match against a player ranked in the world's top 50. But surely that is an anomaly which will be corrected this week at Roland Garros. For the 21 year old German looms as the most likely challenger to Rafael Nadal's crown at the French Open.
Yes, Nadal, the incomparable is peerless on the red dirt of the French capital. He achieved 'La Decima' last year, an incredible 10th Coupe des Musketeers trophy and afterwards three times Roland Garros champion Mats Wilander suggested the 31-year-old who will turn 32 during the tournament, could go on to win as many as 15 French Open titles, such is his complete dominance on clay. The Spaniard has the incentive to match Margaret Court (Australian Open) as the only player to win a single Grand Slam 11 times and he also needs to defend his title to retain the world number one ranking. Not that Nadal needed any motivation to perform at a venue her cherishes more than any other.
While a fit-again Rafa again dominated the clay court swing winning titles in Monte Carlo, Barcelona and Rome with his only blemish, a quarterfinal loss to Dominic Thiem in Madrid, the lanky somewhat cocky German right-hander wasn't far behind. Zverev won Munich, Madrid and then lost to Nadal in the Rome final. It was a match where Nadal was pushed to the limit, only getting back into the third from a break down following a lengthy rain delay.
Zverev gained tremendous confidence with his performance against Nadal in Rome and justifiably heads to Paris with the belief he can break through in a Grand Slam for the first time. The odds, of course, are stacked against the German who has a tricky draw compared to Nadal. Former champion Stan Wawrinka is a possible 4th round opponent with arguably the tournament's 3rd favourite, Dominic Thiem, a potential quarter-final opponent. Not to mention a rejuvenated Novak Djokovic who Zverev could face in the semis.
Zverev is technically flawless, with an impeccable two-handed backhand, a pinpoint accurate serve and an ever-improving forehand, the former junior world number one is destined to top the senior rankings in the future.
Zverev who has won three Masters 1000 titles and has rapidly risen to number three in the world, but has a last 16 appearance at Wimbledon as his best showing in a Major. He is an underachiever on the biggest stages which has led to questions about his stamina over best of five sets matches. But Zverev is adamant his lack of Grand Slam results is nothing more than a mere blip on his resume so early in his career.
"This year I have beaten great players in Davis Cup, those matches are over five sets. I have beaten Kyrgios in Australia in a Davis Cup tie, I have beaten Ferrer and other great players so for me this doesn't matter. We all know I am going to beat a top 50 player at some point in a Grand Slam and it's not something I am going to worry about, to be honest. I am just going to prepare the best I can." Zverev said.
Nadal's record in best of five sets on clay defies belief. He has 104-2 win-loss record with his only defeats coming at Roland Garros, against Robin Soderling in 2009 and Novak Djokovic in 2015
Zverev is looking to become the youngest Grand Slam champion since Juan Martin Del Potro who won the US Open in 2009 aged 20 years 355 days. He may well get to the title decider in a fortnight which would be some achievement, but beating Rafa to win his first Grand Slam in Paris, well that would be something else.
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