After A Long Road To Recovery, Zverev Looms As A French Open Contender

Alexander Zverev (photo: Foto FITP)

ROME/WASHINGTON, May 21, 2024 (by Michael Dickens)

It’s been a long road to recovery for Alexander Zverev after he tore three ligaments in his right ankle during the 2022 Roland Garros semifinals against Rafael Nadal.

When Zverev converted his fourth championship point to defeat 24th-ranked Nicolas Jarry in the final of the Internazionali BNL d’Italia Sunday evening in Rome – his second Italian title and biggest trophy since he shattered his ankle two years ago – he dropped to his knees on the red clay of Foro Italico’s Campo Centrale, leaned back and let out a very audible scream.

“The last two years have been extremely difficult,” the 27-year-old Zverev, who won his first Rome title at age 20 in 2017, acknowledged during the trophy ceremony. “I didn’t know whether I was ever going to be on this stage – regardless of winning or losing – so this moment is extremely special.”

Indeed, Zverev put on quite a serving clinic during his 6-4, 7-5 victory against Jarry for his 22nd career ATP Tour crown. He began with three consecutive aces and won 20 of his 21 service points in the opening set of the one hour and 41-minute title match. The German didn’t drop a point on his first serve until late in the match, after the 6-foot-7 Chilean ran down a deftly-placed drop shot and answered it with a brilliant cross-court winner.

By the end, Zverev had achieved the best serving day of his career, winning 37 of 39 first-serve points – including six aces – and outpointed Jarry 70-51. He finished his Roman conquest after dropping only one set in his six matches.

“Obviously, I’ve been playing well all week, from the first point of the first round until now,” Zverev said during his champion’s news conference. “Obviously, I’m extremely happy with how things went. I struggled a little bit in the semifinals but got my way out of it.

“Today was a great performance. I think Nico has been somebody that has been playing extremely well. The way that he beat the opponents, what kind of opponents he beat as well, shows that he’s been absolutely on fire. I had to neutralize that. I had to neutralize his serve, as well, a lot.

“Of course, I’m happy to be sitting next to this trophy.”

Zverev was asked to compare his two Rome title triumphs. “[It is] very different because obviously the first one is extremely special always,” he said. “But in a way, when I was young, I was extremely confident. I was thinking, ‘Okay, it’s going to come at some point’. After the injury, I was not sure whether it’s going to come or not.

“This one is special in its own way because it proves to me that I can win these kinds of tournaments again. I’m at the level where I want to be. Moving forward, I can dream again. This is what this week brings me.”

Now that Zverev has regained his confidence after winning his sixth ATP Masters 1000 title, he’s moved past Daniil Medvedev from No. 5 to No. 4 in the latest PIF ATP Tour Rankings – his highest ranking since August 2022 – and rounded into form as a legitimate title contender in Paris with the French Open less than a week away.

“I’ve said it many times before, and I’m going to say it again: I’m somebody that I know when I don’t play well, I can lose to anyone, but when I play well, I know I can beat anyone,” Zverev said in his news conference. “That’s my mindset. That’s how I think about it.

“I know I have to focus on myself, to find my rhythm in Paris the way I did here. Then everything is on my own racquet.”

The German, who is seeking his first Grand Slam title, will also be facing a major off-the-court battle – and possible distraction – when his trial for domestic physical abuse, in an incident involving an ex-girlfriend, Brenda Patea, begins in Berlin on May 31.

While Zverev doesn’t have to be present in court, and he indicated during one of his Rome news conferences that he won’t be in Berlin, there’s no doubt that the proceedings in the German court will be on his mind in the coming days.

However, after winning the Rome title, it was reason for Zverev to celebrate his on-court accomplishments.

“Obviously, Roland Garros is the mark time on the calendar,” Zverev told Tennis Channel‘s Prakash Amritraj in an on-court interview after the Rome trophy ceremony. “I’m happy with the [Rome] performance, but let me be happy for a day. Then, I’ll get back to work.”