Zverev shrugs off Ger­man ex­pec­ta­tions

New Straits Times - - Sport -

PARIS: It’s been 80 years since a Ger­man man won Roland Gar­ros but de­spite his stun­ning de­mo­li­tion of No­vak Djokovic in Rome, Alexan­der Zverev in­sists he is not the French Open cham­pion in wait­ing.

The 20-year-old Zverev heads for Paris viewed as the man most likely to profit should nine-time cham­pion Rafael Nadal, World No 1 Andy Mur­ray and 2016 win­ner Djokovic fal­ter.

“You know, when I was about 11, 12, I thought by the age of 20 I’d prob­a­bly win about four Slams al­ready,” joked the bean­pole Ger­man keen to keep a lid on grow­ing ex­pec­ta­tions that the sport’s much-touted ‘Next Gen’ is about to gate­crash the Grand Slam closed shop.

There’s lit­tle doubt that 20year-old Zverev is the real deal.

He boasts an ad­dress amongst the high-rollers of Monte Carlo, while flit­ting be­tween Ham­burg and Florida.

Three ti­tles have al­ready come his way in 2017 — in­doors at Mont­pel­lier and cru­cially, in terms of Roland Gar­ros, on clay at Mu­nich and in Rome on Sun­day.

There he stunned Djokovic in straight sets, be­com­ing the youngest cham­pion in the Ital­ian cap­i­tal since a 19-year-old Nadal in 2006.

He was also the youngest Masters win­ner since Djokovic, at 19, cap­tured Mi­ami a decade ago.

Fur­ther­more, he was the first player born in the 1990s to win a Masters crown and only the fourth Ger­man af­ter Boris Becker, Michael Stich and Tommy Haas.

The legacy of Becker, the last Ger­man man to win a Slam of any de­scrip­tion at the 1996 Aus­tralian Open — a year be­fore Zverev was even born — stalks the young pre­tender, like so many of his com­pa­tri­ots in the last two decades.

But he has al­ready achieved what Becker, a six-time ma­jor cham­pion and win­ner of 49 ca­reer ti­tles, failed to do — win a clay court tour­na­ment.

At Roland Gar­ros, Becker never made it past the semi-fi­nals.

Zverev, now at a ca­reer high of 10 in the world fol­low­ing his Rome tri­umph, will be play­ing in his third Roland Gar­ros.

He made the third round last year while, in 2013, he was run­ner-up in the ju­nior fi­nal.

But he has no doubt that the re­ju­ve­nated Nadal, bid­ding for a 10th French Open, re­mains the over­whelm­ing favourite for the 2017 ti­tle.

“Strong favourite,” he added for em­pha­sis.

“I think No­vak is play­ing quite great again. Do­minic (Thiem, who beat Nadal in Rome) has been show­ing he’s been play­ing very, very well.

“I’ve got to put me on that list even though, you know, I don’t want to sound like I want to say that I’m the favourite my­self or some­thing like this.

“But, you know, those kind of guys who have been play­ing the best over the last few weeks are def­i­nitely the favourites.” AFP

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