Turn giant Nadal into #1: the shadow player and the highest obstacle in the world

Giant Nadal crossed to No. 1
Shadow player and the highest obstacle in the world

Rafael Nadal and the French Open. More is not possible in tennis. The Spaniard has already won 13 titles in Paris and is close to 14th. It is as close a relationship as the one between Queen Elizabeth II and her throne. Alexander Zverev wants to get rid of him tomorrow. What a task.

Against Rafael Nadal in Paris – you will not find it difficult in tennis. Alexander Zverev knew this before the tournament. “There is something about this place that makes him play 30 per cent better just being on the field,” Zverev said of the Spaniard and his relationship with Kurt-Philippe Chatrier. Nadal won 13 titles at Roland Garros, his record: 110 wins and three defeats. “He went down to the field and all of a sudden his forehand was 20kph faster and he’s just as light as a feather,” Zverev said. “There is no greater mission than against Rafa at the Court of Philippe Chatrier.”

This Friday (2.45pm / Eurosport and in the live video on ntv.de) Zverev faces this daunting task. In the semi-finals of the French Open, the Olympic champion will compete with the best clay court player in history. After tennis prodigy Carlos Alcaraz in the quarter-finals, he is now the King of Paris. “It won’t get any easier,” Zverev said with a smile.

But there was no sign of nervousness or even fear in Zverev before the match. Calm and peace, the German top seed prepared for his second consecutive Paris semi-final. On Wednesday, he worked himself again at the Jan Bowen training ground, having booked the pitch with his team for three hours. On Thursday there was a slightly looser 90-minute session. The rest: routine. Same food, same game, same people around us. “He’s someone who sticks very tightly to his operations,” said Misha Zverev, who accompanies his brother’s appearance as a TV expert at Eurosport.

Nobody cares about Zverev

The same processes always give Zverev security. In addition, there is the role of the underdog, which seems to suit him well. Prior to the tournament, no one was talking about the world number three when it came to predicting the semi-finalists at the French Open. Everyone was talking about Novak Djokovic’s return to the Grand Slam after missing the Australian Open, about 19-year-old Alcaraz and, of course, about Nadal.

After all, it could be the last French Open for Paris, darling Nadal kept saying that during the tournament. Chronic pain in his foot is a huge burden for him, and according to his own statements, he only crosses the championship with the constant support of his personal doctor. It cannot be ruled out that it is Zverev who ends Nadal’s wonderful relationship with Paris and perhaps even his career. If he beats the 35-year-old on Friday.

Zverev, who is described as the “shadow player” of the tournament at the Süddeutsche Zeitung these days, is trying to hide it. Before the Australian Open in January, he put a lot of pressure on himself. The first Grand Slam title, number one in the world – all this weighed heavily on him, in the round of 16 it ended against Canadian Denis Shapovalov. The same is now at stake in Paris. Zverev could once again fulfill his dream of capturing the first Grand Slam titles of his career, and the 25-year-old could climb to the top of the rankings once again. The difference from Melbourne: Zverev doesn’t let the topics outperform everything else this time around.

Of course he knows the opportunities. “I am at an age and at a point in my career where I want to win, where I have to win,” Zverev said. But at Bois de Boulogne, he sees the great challenge as more of an incentive than a burden. Likewise, he was the first German since Boris Becker in 1991 to be number one. His brother believes he is capable of both. “I think this is the moment when he can do that,” Misha Zverev said in an interview with Sports Illustrated.

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