Zverev Proves Victory Belongs To The Most Tenacious At Roland Garros

Alexander Zverev (photo: Jürgen Hasenkopf)

PARIS/WASHINGTON, June 5, 2023 (by Michael Dickens)

The words “Victory Belongs To The Most Tenacious” are etched into the upper-deck façade of Court Philippe-Chatrier at Stade Roland-Garros. They have served as a fitting tribute to the healthy again Alexander Zverev during the first week of the French Open.

Zverev thrilled a Saturday night session crowd into early Sunday morning with a 3-6, 7-6 (3), 6-1, 7-6 (5) victory over longtime friend and foe Frances Tiafoe that was both entertaining and riveting, and lasted three hours, 41 minutes. They played through dusk and night and the fans cheered for both competitors, each seeking their first Grand Slam title.

The Zverev-Tiafoe match was packed full of tremendous shot making by both players, and by the end of the third-round tussle that ended at 12:19 a.m., the 22nd-seeded German had improved to 7-1 against Tiafoe. By besting the 25-year-old American in their first meeting on clay, Zverev had reached the French Open fourth round for the sixth straight year and his quest to make it to three straight Roland Garros semifinals remains alive. Zverev and the 12th-seed Tiafoe shared a warm embrace at the net. All was good between them.

In his post-match press conference, Zverev acknowledged his relief in winning. “I’m happy to be through. I’m happy to be in the fourth round and be in the second week of a Grand Slam,” he said. “It’s, for sure, a great thing for me right now.”

Zverev reached the 2021 and 2022 semifinals at Roland Garros but left last year’s semifinal in a wheelchair after a gruesome ankle injury against eventual champion Rafael Nadal that sidelined him for the remainder of the season, and from which he’s still recovering.

“I know what happened last year,” the 26-year-old German No. 1 from Hamburg said. “It was emotional for me to step on that court for the first time when I played [Alex] Molcan, I’m not going to lie. But now I’m here to play some of the best players in the world, and today was definitely the case in that. I’m happy with the win and happy to be through.”

Against Tiafoe, Zverev struck 13 aces and double faulted 10 times while also converting five of 14 break points. His serve was broken five times. The last break occurred when Tiafoe served at 5-3 in the fourth, trying to force a fifth set, but instead saw Zverev rally after losing his own serve in the previous game.

“I played well,” admitted Tiafoe, in his late-night press conference. “I mean, for the majority of the match I felt like I was in control. I felt like I was controlling the rally for the most part. I mean, I thought I was a better player for a lot of times.”

However, give credit where it’s due to Zverev for his passion and tenacity. During his on-court interview, he said: “It’s been the hardest year in my life. I’m not playing tennis for fame or money; I’m just loving the competition. To be far from that was tough. I’m so happy to be back, it’ll be a great second week for me.”

With another deep run in the making for Zverev, next up is a Monday evening showdown with No. 28 seed Grigor Dimitrov. Zverev is 3-1 lifetime against the Bulgarian. Earlier Saturday, Dimitrov advanced with a 6-4, 6-3, 6-1 win against No. 79 Daniel Altmaier of Germany on Court Simonne-Mathieu to reach the fourth round at Roland Garros for the second time. It placed Dimitrov in the second week of a major for the first time since reaching the 2021 Australian Open quarterfinals.

With both No. 2 seed Daniil Medvedev of Russia and No. 8 Jannik Sinner of Italy already eliminated, the bottom half of the 128-player draw where Zverev is placed is wide open. A possible quarterfinal against either No. 49 Tomas Martin Etcheverry of Argentina or No. 27 seed Yoshihito Nishioka of Japan looms later in the week for the Zverev-Dimitrov victor.

After his victory over No. 86 Alex Molcan of Slovakia, Zverev was asked in press to reflect upon his relationship with Roland Garros. He said: “I love the place. It’s nice to be back here. It’s definitely a tournament I want to win and also do great. So yeah, there’s still a small part missing in that, but all in all, I enjoy being out here.”