Zverev preparing for ‘peak Rafa’

German fourth seed expecting tough first round battle against 14-time Roland-Garros champion

Alexander Zverev, Media Day, Roland-Garros 2024© CORINNE DUBREUIL / FFT
 - Lee Goodall

When Alexander Zverev’s name appeared alongside that of Spanish great Rafael Nadal’s during Thursday’s Roland-Garros draw there were audible gasps from those watching the ceremony on site.

Prior to the draw, everybody around tennis had been wondering where the unseeded 14-time Grand Slam champion would sit in the 128-player line-up in what is most likely his last visit to the clay-court major he has dominated for the last two decades.

Some might argue that it is the worst possible scenario for Nadal, going up against perhaps the most in-form player on the ATP Tour after Zverev collected his second Rome Masters title and his sixth at that level overall last Sunday.


Nadal, in contrast, has had an indifferent return to the sport since more injuries ruled him out of scheduled tournaments between January and April.

He lost his second match at his comeback tournament in Barcelona, was admittedly sharper in Madrid during a fourth round run in the Spanish capital but was beaten easily by Polish top-10 player Hubert Hurkacz in their Rome second round meeting 6-1, 6-3 in the run-up to Paris.

Alexander Zverev, Media Day, Roland-Garros 2024©Corinne Dubreuil / FFT

During his media day duties on Friday, however, Zverev insisted he will be ready for a battle when he and the 22-time Grand Slam winner step on court on Monday.

"In my mind, I'm going to play peak Rafa Nadal," said the world No.4 who is a three-time semi-finalist in Paris.

“That's what I expect him to be. I expect him to be at his absolute best. I expect him to play the best tennis he's played in a long time on this court.

“I think he's going to be peak Rafa Nadal. I think he's going to be at his best, and that's my mindset going into this match.”

The most recent of their 10 career meetings ended in disaster for Zverev who sustained a serious ankle injury in the second set of their 2022 Paris semi-final. The German had to be helped off the court and those torn ankle ligaments subsequently forced him to miss the remainder of that season.

The 27-year-old admitted that he had secretly been hoping to play the Spaniard one more time before the 37-year-old’s retirement from the sport in a bid to delete the bad memories from that day.

“I wanted to play Rafa again in my career, in his career, because I didn't want my last memory of me playing against Rafa to be me leaving the court in a wheelchair,” he said.

“Ideally, I would have liked to play him in the later stage of the tournament, but it is how it is now.

“He is unseeded this year. I am seeded. You know, it's a tough draw, but it's a tough draw for both of us.

“We'll see how it goes on Monday.”