Zverev will have to keep a cool head: “He must face the player Nadal, not the myth Nadal”

Zverev will have to keep a cool head: “He must face the player Nadal, not the myth Nadal”
Zverev will have to keep a cool head: “He must face the player Nadal, not the myth Nadal”

There are complicated matches. There are posters. Shocks. And the special matches, because they are unlike anything else. Alexander Zverev is preparing to play the most special of all matches. Facing Rafael Nadal in the first round at Roland-Garros is special, obviously. Particular for him, and for his illustrious adversary. “There will be nervousness, on both sides, especially with this strange feeling that the end of the Rafael Nadal era at Roland Garros could be coming to an end“, summarizes Mischa Zverev, Alexander’s older brother.

This match is special because of its context, but also because two years ago, right here, it was during a semi-final that was already unique in its kind for other reasons, that the The Spaniard and the German had clashed. Three big hours of fighting, for less than… two sets, before the dramatic injury to Zverev, forced to retire with his ankle in pieces.

The Zverev clan was marked by this episode which constituted a terrible setback in the career of the man who, at the time, occupied the place of world number 2. “After that, he stayed six or seven months without playing,” recalls Mischa Zverev, Eurosport consultant during this fortnight. “I won’t talk about revenge, because Nadal obviously had nothing to do with Sascha being injured that day, according to the illustrious figure of German tennis, Boris Becker. But Zverev was strong and many experts think he could have won that day and he might be the best Zverev we have ever seen.”

Nadal and Djokovic no longer scare, the outsiders are pressing

We must remove all emotion from this match

A lot of water has flowed under the Seine since this semi-final. Zverev has rebuilt himself, regaining his place in the Top 5, he has just won the Masters 1000 in Rome and he appears to be one of the candidates for the title in Paris. Nadal seems to be at the end of his race. His bruised body forced him to take a very long break and since his return, nothing has been easy for him. Even on clay.

Everyone asks me: ‘Sascha, what’s going to happen on Monday?’ Everything is different compared to two years ago“, underlines the big brother, who wants to be rather optimistic for this first round. “I have always said that Sascha could and should have won at the time (in 2022, Editor’s note), he said. And he will win this time, because Rafa has become a little slower and his physical form is no longer the same. His shots may still be the same, but the big question is whether he can last five sets. I think in the end the winner will be Sascha and I hope it will be in three sets.”

On the other hand, he concedes that the match will be “very difficult“on one point.”Maybe not in terms of play, but emotionally“, judge Mischa Zverev. For Boris Becker, the psychological dimension will indeed be the key point. The best thing to do? Eradicate it from his mind. “His brother and father can help him in this regard, believes the three-time Wimbledon winner. You have to see things without the slightest emotion, soberly. We must remove all emotion from this match. But is it possible? It’s difficult, of course. But Zverev will have had a few days to prepare and he will have to adjust on this point.”

Will the public play a role?

Becker is right. For Zverev, it will be essential to keep a cool head. Almost to dehumanize the event so that it isn’t one. Let it simply be a first round against the 276th player in the world. Reasoning probably vain or even absurd but he will have to strive towards that. Extract yourself from the context. The one which, for example, should put the audience of the Philippe-Chatrier court in a daze. The atmosphere also promises to be very, very special.

Alexander Zverev is probably aware of this, but here too, he will have to protect himself. “The public can’t decide if they want to see a great match or if they are just going to see Rafa on Central one more time“, Mischa Zverev tries to convince himself. “Rafa is the king of Paris and the fans will be behind him but that doesn’t mean they will be against Sascha. But obviously, when you face Nadal at Philippe-Chatrier, you can expect to have the majority of the public on his side. Sascha won’t be able to do anything about it“, warns Boris Becker.

If the public becomes an actor, if it begins to play a role, if it weighs on the debates, things could become even more complicated for Zverev. For him, it will be decisive that no external element can nibble his brain. “My advice for Zverev? asks Becker in conclusion, He must face the player Nadal, not the myth Nadal. This player is 37 years old and has not played a single Grand Slam since January 2003. Zverev has played very well in the Grand Slams for a year. And it is he who has just reached Rome. Not Nadal.”

This is all true. If this match remains within the framework of the logic of this spring 2024, Zverev has everything to send home the most legendary character of Porte d’Auteuil. But, there is a but. Will he only face the 276th in the world, almost 38 years old, or will the aura of the man with 14 Coupes des Mousquetaires take over the court? This is the challenge of this very different match.

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