Zverev keeps proving doubters wrong

 - Alex Sharp

The US Open finalist opened his Roland-Garros account with a straight-sets win over Dennis Novak.

Alexander Zverev, Roland Garros 2020, First round© Corinne Dubreuil/FFT

Alexander Zverev had a reputation for becoming embroiled in turbulent, prolonged battles in the early stages of the Grand Slam puzzle, struggling to replenish his reserves for the latter stages.

Not now, not in 2020.

“Everybody kept saying I don’t play well at slams. I feel like I’m proving them wrong this year," the No.6 seed said. “I think this started back at the Australian Open this year. I’ve been much calmer during the Grand Slams.”

After he reached his first Grand Slam semi-final in Melbourne in January, earlier this month he experienced the extreme heartache of falling to Dominic Thiem in a fifth-set tie-break of the US Open final.

“Yeah, I'm probably the third-best player this year when it comes to Slam results, right? After Novak (Djokovic) and after Dominic (Thiem). I obviously do want to win one, more than one,” the 23-year-old said.

“I was two points away on multiple occasions in New York. That obviously was very upsetting and frustrating, but at the same time I know how close I've gotten.”

Due to his exploits in New York, Zverev arrived on Court Philippe-Chatrier for his first clay-court encounter of the season.

World No.91 Dennis Novak stood in his way in swirling conditions under the lights. It was a shaky start as the Austrian opened up a 5-2 lead.

However, Zverev, under the watch of newly confirmed joint-coach David Ferrer, channelled his tutor’s work rate and placement to dominate.

Zverev, a quarter-finalist at Roland-Garros in 2018 and 2019, capped a 28-shot rally with a backhand pass clipped from down by his laces. That was the catalyst as the German rattled through five games, taking the opening set with a sumptuous stop volley. 

Novak sat at the change of ends shrugging his shoulders, before an early break in the next two sets was sufficient as Zverev closed out a comfortable 7-5, 6-2, 6-4 victory.

The supremely fit Zverev is adamant he has physically recovered from his final run in New York, but admitted the mental exertions were hard to overcome.

“I was on a boat in Monaco doing nothing at all. Then I came here. Then I practised. Now I'm gonna play hopefully seven matches here," he said.

“Obviously it’s not easy, there are a lot of great players here, a lot of great players on this surface. I’ve got to go match by match and see how it goes.”

The US Open final still lingers, having let a two-set lead dissolve, before failing to serve out a maiden major title at 5-3 in the decider at Flushing Meadows.

“You don't want to be the first man in 70 years or whatever it was to lose a US Open final from two sets to love up,” he said.

“But as I said also in New York, I feel like Dominic was the one that deserved it more, and not only on that day but basically the last year and a half or so I feel like he was the better tennis player.

“I had one hand on the trophy, but I do believe that I can win them now.”

It looks like Zverev is happy to keep proving the doubters wrong.