Zverev’s path to his first French Open final widens
Alex Zverev was going toe-to-toe with Rafael Nadal at the 2022 Roland Garros semifinal.
The first set went to a tiebreaker, and Zverev found himself in a position to win it with five set points.
However, Nadal did Nadal things and climbed back to win the tiebreaker 10-8. A tiebreaker featuring the greatest clay-court player of all-time, in his finest form, at age 35. Nobody on the planet beats Nadal at that level.
Zverev once again found himself in a tiebreaker in the second set, only to have his right ankle break on the first point, ending his 2022 season.
Fast forward one year and we’re back at Roland Garros, as is Zverev who says he’s playing pain-free again.
And the 26-year-old’s path to the finals drastically widened after No. 2 seed Daniil Medvedev was ousted in the first round.
Now entering the third round, Zverev’s path to the semifinals goes through a group (Frances Tiafoe, Borna Coric, Tomas Martin Etcheverry, Yoshihito Nishioka, Thiago Seyboth Wild) that collectively has zero fourth round appearances at Roland Garros.
In fact, this group of players has reached just a combined six quarterfinals at Grand Slams, with Tiafoe, Zverev’s next opponent, owning four of those.
I like Tiafoe, but none of the American’s success at Grand Slams has come on clay, and this is just his first trip to the third round in France on the 25-year-old’s eighth attempt.
Now, let’s assume Zverev, seeded No. 22, makes it out of this part of the bracket.
The four players with shorter odds of winning the tournament than Zverev all have to play at least someone else on the list before the semifinal.
Zverev’s semifinal opponent would likely be No. 6 Holger Rune or No. 4 Casper Ruud, two high-level clay court players that will need to go through each other in the quarterfinal before earning a date with the 26-year-old German.
Whoever makes it out of this side of things will very likely face either 36-year-old Novak Djokovic, currently ranked No.3, or 20-year-old world No. 1 Carlos Alcaraz, the two heavy favourites.
The path to the final is there, and as someone holding a 42-1 ticket on Ruud, I was going through doomsday scenarios, as all gamblers do.
And remembering how great Zverev looked in that semifinal against Nadal last year has me wondering if, now that he’s fully healthy, anyone can stop him.
After all, Nadal, who’s recovering from an injury, is not competing in Paris.