Zverev: Against Carlos it's a different intensity

German hails the third-seeded Spaniard after falling short of his first major in five sets

Alexander Zverev, men's final, Roland-Garros 2024©️Pauline Ballet / FFT

 - Dan Imhoff

Wise to cast any amount of hype aside, Alexander Zverev knows never to take Grand Slam final appearances for granted.

A next-big-thing of the ’90s generation, the German has long been expected to steer the ship among his peers as a Grand Slam champion in waiting.

That first Grand Slam final came in his 21st major appearance at Flushing Meadows in 2020. On Sunday, he again came up short in five sets – this time to a swashbuckling Carlos Alcaraz – in the Roland-Garros decider.

Four years after capitulating from two sets to the good and two points from the brink of realising his Grand Slam promise in New York, defeat this time felt vastly different.

“He played fantastic. He played better than me the fourth and fifth set. It's how it is,” Zverev said. “I felt like this Grand Slam final I did everything I could. At the US Open I kind of gave it away myself. It's a bit different.”

It had been a long time coming. In his fourth straight semi-final appearance in Paris, he saw off two-time finalist Casper Ruud to earn a second crack at breaking his hoodoo.

Zverev said that at 27 he was “not a kid anymore. If not now, then when?”

It was a telling insight into his hunger, a motivation that remained steadfast despite having seen Thiem, Daniil Medvedev, Alcaraz, and Jannik Sinner overtake him on their way to the major winners’ circle.

Looking to become just the second player after Novak Djokovic to defeat Rafael Nadal en route to the Coups des Mousquetaires, the German came into the showdown riding a 12-match winning streak following his Rome Masters title.

In the driver’s seat at two sets to one up, he admitted he suddenly hit a wall.

Alexander Zverev, Carlos Alcaraz, men's final, Roland-Garros 2024©️Corinne Dubreuil / FFT

“I lost focus, and on my serve I didn't get the power from my legs anymore, which is weird,” he said. “Because normally I do not get tired. I don't cramp, I don't get tired normally.

“But again, against Carlos it's a different intensity, so maybe that was the case a bit. Yeah, maybe I have to look at my preparation. Maybe I have to look at how I do things on a physical base as well.

“Of course, look, I felt from the tennis level I was playing decent and he was playing decent for three sets. Then I dropped a lot.”

Only two years ago, he again looked poised to press for the silverware only for a serious ankle injury suffered during an evenly contested tussle with Nadal in the semi-finals.

While a markedly improved player – particularly more stable on serve – this year, he conceded he came up against a superior opponent in the 21-year-old Spaniard.

“We're both physically strong, but he's a beast. He's an animal, for sure,” he said. “The intensity he plays tennis at is different to other people. You know, he can do so many different things, right?

“I think he changed his tactic a lot in the fifth set, started to play a lot higher, a lot deeper for me to not create as much power. Especially with the shadows on the court, it was slower again. But he's a fantastic player, and physically he's fantastic.

“So, you know, I have to look at myself and I have to look at the team that I have and see what I can do to become at the same level.”