Zverev on facing Nadal: “I really wanted to play him; I did not want to play him in the first round”

Alexander Zverev held his pre-tournament press conference at Roland-Garros on Friday. As expected, the focus was on his matchup with Rafael Nadal.

Alexander Zverev, Roland-Garros 2022 Germany’s Alexander Zverev with Spain’s Rafael Nadal as he retires from the match after sustaining an injury (AI/Reuters/Panoramic)

Alexander Zverev wanted to get at least one more shot at Rafael Nadal — especially at Roland-Garros.

He just didn’t want it to come in the very first round.

That will be the case, though, as Thursday’s French Open draw ceremony produced an opening-round rematch of 2022’s memorable semi-final between Nadal and Zverev that ended with the German’s terrible ankle injury in a second-set tiebreak.

“I was on court with (Andrey) Rublev yesterday on Chatrier practicing,” Zverev said at his press conference on Friday. “And then after the practice was over, which was actually a great practice, my brother told me (about the draw). I actually thought he was joking in the beginning.”

It is, however, no joke. Zverev and Nadal will square off for the 11th time in their careers on Monday. The Spaniard leads the head-to-head series 7-3, including 5-1 on clay. They have not met since their 2022 semi-final showdown.

“I think both of us, if we would have a choice, we would choose differently, for sure,” Zverev commented. “I really wanted to play him one more time — one more time. Because I didn’t want my last memory to be me rolling off in a wheelchair off Philippe-Chatrier. I really wanted to play him here. I did not want to play him in the first round; I wanted to play him in the semi-finals, finals, a later stage of the tournament.

“But at the end of the day, he’s not seeded. It is how it is, and I think we’re both prepared for a tough battle.”

I think he’s going to be peak Rafa Nadal. I think he’s going to be at his best

Alexander Zverev

Nadal, of course, is unseeded due to having played sparingly over the past two seasons. Plagued by a hip issue, the 37-year-old is down at No 276 in the rankings. His clay-court results this spring have been mixed, headlined by a fourth-round performance at the Madrid Masters. Nadal has won at least one match in all three of his starts, but he failed to win more than one in both Barcelona and Rome. In Rome he managed to take just four games against Hubert Hurkacz in the second round.

Still, Nadal can never be discounted — not at Roland-Garros. The 22-time Grand Slam champion has lifted La Coupe des Mousquetaires on 14 occasions.

As such, Zverev is prepared to face the Nadal of old.

“For me, in my mind I’m going to play peak Rafa Nadal,” the world No 4 explained. “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 mean, (in) 2022 I remember he came into Roland-Garros not winning Monte-Carlo, not winning Madrid, not winning Rome. He came into this tournament, everybody was like, ‘Oh, he’s a big question mark, he’s this and that. He came and dominated the entire tournament. So in my mind 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.¬†

“Everybody now is excited for a tough battle and tough first round. I think he’s excited and I’m excited for it.”

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