A year after his serious ankle injury, Alexander Zverev returns to the French Open. The starting position is different than in 2022. In addition, the dress rehearsal fails.
Alexander Zverev fought his way back to his place of comfort in Geneva shortly before the start of the French Open despite his form crisis.
Otherwise, the Olympic champion is accompanied by plenty of question marks about his first appearance at the Stade Roland Garros since the injury drama. Unlike in 2019, he was also denied tournament victory at the Geneva Open, with a 6: 7 (3: 7), 3: 6 against the Chilean outsider Nicolás Jarry, it was the next disappointment in the semifinals.
The goal was actually different: “Finding the rhythm, self-confidence, winning – that’s important, even more so two weeks ago like in Paris,” said Zverev about the tournament in Geneva, which he did for the much-needed match practice before Sunday beginning French clay court classic in his program.
“Worst tennis since 2015, 2016”
Every tennis fan still has the pictures from the previous year in their heads: Zverev twists his ankle violently, lies screaming and with his face contorted in pain on the red sand. He is pushed off the Philippe-Chatrier court in a wheelchair and hobbles back on crutches accompanied by semi-final opponent Rafael Nadal. The hamburger later had an operation on his broken ankle, followed by months of rehab, tough struggles to regain his old form, consistency and the earlier self-image of a professional on the possible path to his first Grand Slam tournament triumph.
“A year in tennis is damn long, Sascha knows that best,” Boris Becker analyzed the changed starting position for Zverev. “A year later, to be fair, he is not among the top eight favorites, tennis is so brutal.”
In mid-April, Zverev still believed in Munich that he was only “one or two percent” away from his top form. A month later, after the opening defeat there, a smack against Carlos Alcaraz in Madrid and another round of 16 in Rome, he thought he was “still 1000 kilometers away”, certified the “worst tennis since 2015, 2016”.
The truth might lie somewhere in between. Even in Geneva, where he got out of trouble by winning the title four years ago, Zverev did not make it into the final for the first time since his comeback. He’s still waiting for his first victory over a top ten opponent after the injury. He was very close several times against world number two Daniil Medvedev, but missed great chances.
Back to the top of the world at the French Open
“In terms of potential, he is a top man,” said ex-pro Tommy Haas about the expectations of Zverev. “Now it’s the first time for him an experience where he doesn’t win the matches, he struggles a bit more with himself and maybe thinks about the injury a bit. It takes time, you have to give it to him.”
Like Haas in his prime, Zverev was second in the world at the time of his injury, the sensation against Nadal in an epic match and the leap to the top were within reach in 2022. “I might have been able to win my first Grand Slam tournament. Then I would have been number one. That’s lagging behind,” Zverev recalled in an interview with “Sports Illustrated” in March.
Most recently, the US Open finalist from 2020 had fallen back to 27th in the world rankings, his worst position since September 2016. In the next ranking, he will again push past Davis Cup colleague Jan-Lennard Struff thanks to his success in Geneva – an early end at the French Open would mean a violent crash and, as a result, difficult opponents in the earliest stages of the tournament.
That’s not the only reason why Zverev has to win at the beginning of Roland Garros against outsider Lloyd Harris from South Africa. The possible path in the tournament could lead to another duel with Medvedev via the American Frances Tiafoe in round three and the Italian Jannik Sinner in the round of 16.
Nadal speaks confidently about Zverev
Despite the performance a year ago, Zverev no longer appears on the analysts’ favorite lists. From the point of view of Eurosport expert Becker, without the injured defending champion Nadal, his Spanish compatriot Alcaraz, Rome winner Medvedev (Russia), the 22-time Grand Slam tournament winner Novak Djokovic from Serbia and the Dane Holger Rune are the top contenders for the Title. “The public doesn’t talk about Sascha Zverev,” said Becker. “He’s a proud player, he wants to be one of the favourites. As things stand today, he’s not.”
But in the long term, Zverev wants to prove the words that were sent to the hospital by one of the greatest in tennis as encouragement: “I know how hard he’s fighting to win a Grand Slam tournament,” said clay court dominator Nadal directly after the injury of his opponent. “I’m sure he’ll win not just one, but several.” (dpa)
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