After winning a fourth-set tie-break to beat Carlos Alcaraz (6-4, 6-4, 4-6, 7-6 (9-7)) and advance to a second consecutive French Open semifinal, Alexander Zverez embraced his young Spanish opponent at the net.
"I told him that he would win this tournament one day, not just once but many times," Zverev revealed in an on-court post-match interview.
"I just hope that I can win it before he beats all of us and none of us have a chance anymore," he added with a smile, earning applause from the Paris crowd. "Carlos is an incredible player. I knew that I would have to play my very best tennis today right from the start."
Alcaraz, born in Murcia in the south east of Spain, is the new shooting star of world tennis. He has shaken up the long-standing hierarchy at the top of men's tennis, seemingly at will. Alcaraz has won four tournaments this year - Rio de Janeiro, Barcelona, Miami and Madrid. The final two are valued by the ATP (the men's tennis federation) just beneath the Grand Slams.
"I'm a man who is very clear about his goal, and one of those goals is to be the number one in the world," Alcaraz said.
The teenager is closing in on that goal too. The win in Madrid has moved him from ninth to sixth in the world's rankings. In 2019, he was 597th.
Friendship with Ferrero
Alcaraz has been a pro since 2018, and he won his first ATP tournament last year in Croatia. He also made the quarterfinals of the US Open, where he paid the price for the physical hardships of the year.
Since then, thanks to intense training plans and a new nutritional approach, he has put on muscle mass. "He's not just a good tennis player, but also a very good athlete. He has reached his ideal physical form," said his fitness coach Alberto Lledo.
Since the age of 15, Alcaraz has been working with coach Juan Carlos Ferrero. The 42-year-old won the 2003 French Open and brought Alcaraz into his academy early on.
"I was complicated then. I was and am stubborn. It was chaotic. Juan Carlos had a difficult job," said the talented teenager. But his efforts were worth it. Alcaraz's shots crash down the line, his variety and game understanding is exceptional.
The best in the world right now?
Alcaraz regularly hammers his forehand over the net at 125 km/h. His double-handed backhand reaches similar speeds. His game is exceptionally intense and spectacular. He is closing in on perfection.
"Carlitos" doesn't shy away from risk and in doing so ignites the crowd. "When I'm on the court, I say to myself, I must be brave and aggressive," said Alcaraz.
"I don't try to secure the result and wait for another to make mistakes. If I lose then it won't be because I wasn't brave enough or just went out to hit some balls."
In Madrid, he did something no had done in the same tournament, namely beat Nadal and Novak Djokovic. Germany's best tennis player and Olympic gold medalist Zverev stood no chance in the final. Both the German and Djokovic said Alcaraz was the best tennis player in the world right now.
French Open favorite
As a result of his outstanding performances, Alcaraz arrived at Roland Garros among the favorites to win the French Open, and saw off world number 31 Albert Vinolas and number 26 Karen Khachanov en route to his quarterfinal against Zverev.
Alcaraz recently said he has learned to win finals not just play them. That's not arrogance, but rather an admission of how much passion he takes to the court with. With the healthy confidence of a top athlete, the 19-year-old has made huge strides.
More are likely to follow, as Zverev promised him at the net.
This article was originally written in German.