Zverev v Alcaraz: Things we learned

 - Alex Sharp

The German world No.3 halted the impressive run of the teen prodigy in four scintillating sets to reach semis

Alexander Zverev Roland-Garros 2022©Julien Crosnier / FFT

On paper this promised to be a high-octane occasion and it certainly delivered.

The tennis world has been transfixed by the rapid rise of Spanish teenager Carlos Alcaraz, who has burst onto the scene to become a Grand Slam contender.

Alexander Zverev has had that limelight in the past too. The German is six years older than Alcaraz and his major experience just about told on a baking Court Philippe-Chatrier on Tuesday.

Zverev replicated his Roland-Garros semi-final spot from 2021 with an enthralling 6-4, 6-4, 4-6, 7-6(7) victory to earn a last-four blockbuster with Novak Djokovic or Rafael Nadal.

Here is what we learned from the world No.3’s triumph.

Zverev’s serve is still a serious weapon

When the towering German’s delivery is accurate, very few can live with him.

The 25-year-old is a confidence player, rattling through holds if he can land a succession of serves.

No.6 seed Alcaraz received so deep that his feet were just in front of the line judges. The 19-year-old struggled to apply the pressure in the early exchanges.

Having broken for 3-2, Zverev swept through a hold to 15 within two minutes. Zip forward to 5-4 and the world No.3 collected the opening set with another hold to 15.

Into set two at 4-3, the German consolidated his crucial break with a hold to love, an ace throwing the heat back to Alcaraz in just 92 seconds.

Again 5-4, serving out the set, a nasty double fault looped long, but instead of wilting and succumbing to nerves (which has been an issue in recent seasons), Zverev lasered down an ace. He only missed eight first serves in the whole second set. 

With the momentum shifting, Zverev kept apace in the fourth set when serving second and maintained his composure, fending off trouble at 4-3 with a remarkable 207 kmph second serve.

Despite failing to serve out victory at 5-4 he didn’t flinch and an assured tiebreak delivered a memorable win.

Alexander Zverev, quart de finale, Roland-Garros 2022©Nicolas Gouhier / FFT

Carlitos will be an RG champ one day

One of the most impressive aspects of Grand Slam champions is how they navigate the entire fortnight at the majors.

Alcaraz has zoomed up the rankings courtesy of two Masters 1000 trophies this season and has also posted a quarter-final showing at the US Open last September.

However, the teen phenom is still learning the process, how to conserve energy and maintain his mental capacity in these major moments.

Alcaraz was becoming increasingly frustrated in the opening two sets, yelling out “no puede ser" (this cannot be) in Spanish, as his explosive game was off-kilter all too often against the third seed. To venture into the final Sunday, you can’t give the calibre of Zverev that much room.

On the flip side, the third and fourth sets from Alcaraz were sensational. The Murcian popping numerous hot shots into the equation.

Alexander Zverev Roland-Garros 2022©Julien Crosnier / FFT

The way he snatched the third set away with a trio of drop shots in one game sent the crowd into delirium, but also emphasised his future Grand Slam credentials.

Make sure you catch the highlights as Alcaraz more than played his part, lifting his level to finish with 46 winners (56 unforced errors), 34/50 success rate at the net, 43 drop shots and 14 lobs. That paints a picture of some brave and bold tennis.

The crowd loved it and Zverev was clearly taken aback.

“I knew I had to play my absolute best tennis today from the very start on. He kept on coming back, he’s an incredible player. I told him at the net you’re going to win this tournament multiple times, not only once,” insisted the German. 

“I hope I can win it before he starts beating us all and we’ll have no chance.”

Everything points to Zverev being correct.

Zverev has a point to prove

So much of the narrative around Roland-Garros has been centred around the ‘Big Three’ duo Djokovic and Nadal, as well as the emergence of Alcaraz.

For someone who has consistently lifted big titles and chalked up Grand Slam wins, Zverev has been left out of the conversation.

He looked and played like a man with a point to prove and gained revenge for a 6-3, 6-1 dismissal by Alcaraz in Madrid with some clinical and gutsy play. Clean hitting, metronome serving, Zverev was cruising deep into the third set.

Even when Alcaraz mounted his crowd-pleasing comeback, the German looked steely determined, striding between points and still hitting with conviction.

The fourth-set tiebreak was the most impressive segment. The world No.3 connecting with three piercing backhands down the line, the last one clinching a mammoth victory in his career.

“The match was turning his way, I’m extremely happy that I won the tiebreak, that I didn’t have to play a fifth set, I didn’t have to be disappointed after a five-set match again like last year after the semi-finals,” stated the 25-year-old after earning the first top-10 victory of his career at a Grand Slam.

“He's one of the best players in the world right now, and beating him at Roland-Garros, Grand Slam, is very important for me.

“But next I have the world No.1 or a 13-time champion here. So it's not really getting easier from here.”

'It’s my time now,' insists Zverev

Before Tuesday, Zverev had a 0-11 record in Grand Slam duels against top-10 talent.

That has proven the major stumbling block to his first major title, but now he’s booked a fifth career Grand Slam semi-final, Zverev is feeling in the groove to rise to the occasion.

He’s feeling fresh, dispatched a key contender, Zverev simply cannot be counted out.

“Hopefully I can manage and take this win today and put it on the court on Friday,” reflected the third seed.

“I'm not 20 or 21 years-old anymore; I'm 25. I am at the stage where I want to win, I'm at the stage where I'm supposed to win.”

Alexander Zverev, Roland Garros 2022, quarter-final© Pauline Ballet/FFT