French Open preview: Alexander Zverev out to break German men′s drought | More sports | DW | 26.05.2018
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French Open preview: Alexander Zverev out to break German men's drought

While Angelique Kerber has enjoyed recent grand slam success, Germany hasn't produced a male champion in 22 years. Alexander Zverev is the man most likely to change that — but he refuses to get ahead of himself.

There have been 88 grand slams since Boris Becker won the Australian Open, the last of his six major titles, in 1996 and not once has a German man been able to repeat the feat. 

More than half of those 88 have been won by Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. But with Djokovic struggling for form and Federer skipping the clay season to be fresh for the grass court season, Zverev, 21, is second only to the 'King of Clay' Nadal in the list of favorites to win the title at Roland Garros.

The world number 3 has enjoyed a strong start to the season, winning titles in Munich and Madrid and narrowly losing out to Nadal in Madrid last week. But as a player who's yet to reach the last eight in a major, he's wary of getting too far ahead of himself.

"I'm not trying to think ahead. I have done that before in grand slams, and I lost early," said Zverev as he prepares to start his campaign against Ricardas Berankis in the first round when the tournament begins on Sunday.

"It's obviously been a fantastic clay court season for me. You know, winning so many matches in a row, as well, over a period of Munich, Madrid, and Rome, was great coming in here. Obviously there is a lot of other great players playing here, Rafa, Novak, and everybody. They are all getting on top of their game. I think this is going to be a very interesting tournament."

Upset the established order

The loss to Nadal in Madrid, though partly attributed to a change in conditions following a mid-match rain break, did lead to Zverev, seeded 2, being asked about another statistic that some may feel will hinder his chances; he's never beaten a player ranked in the top 50 at a slam. "We all know I'm going to beat a top-50 player at some point in a grand slam. I mean, this is not something I worry about, to be honest," Zverev said.

Zverev heads a group of younger players including Austria's Dominic Thiem and Bulgaria's Grigor Dimitrov who are looking to upset the established order in Paris, where a player outside of the big three hasn't won since 2005 — Nadal alone has 10 French Open titles. Zverev feels that, despite the lack of a grand slam success, the future has arrived.

"We have been talking about it for a few years now," he said. "I feel like the best of our generation are already kind of the current generation. They shouldn't be called next generation too much. I'm number 3 in the world right now."

Zverev is in the opposite half of the draw to Nadal but could cross paths with Thiem, Kei Nishikori and Stan Wawrinka. Older brother Mischa is also in the draw and will play compatriot Florian Mayer in round one.

Williams returns, Kerber in good spirits 

There will be another all-German affair in the women's draw, with Angelique Kerber taking on Mona Barthel. After the joy of 2016 when she won both the Australian and US Open and lost in the final in Wimbledon, the 30-year-old has struggled to recapture her form.

She ended that year as world number 1 but has slid down the rankings — at one point dropping out of the top 20 altogether — but her new coach Wim Fissette says she is refreshed and raring to go.

"Angie felt a lot of pressure last year. With all the pressure on her, and also with all the off-court activities as well — because as No.1 you have to do so much more off court — she didn't feel fresh in her head last year," Fissette told wtatennis.com.

"But I feel that now she wants to go on the court and she loves playing tennis. She feels fresh again. After her first tournament last year, she felt as though she needed a holiday, and of course that's not the right feeling to have when you've just started the year. But I feel as though she loves the game a lot right now."

The mental improvement has seen her results improve, winning a title in Sydney before reaching the last four of the Australian Open and rising back to number 12 in the world. But there are plenty of strong contenders blocking her path to a third grand slam win.

Perhaps the most daunting of those is Serena Williams, who is back for her first grand slam since giving birth. Romania's Simona Halep, Elina Svitolina, of Ukraine, and Maria Sharapova, who has picked up form recently after struggling after her comeback from a doping ban just over a year ago.

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