Alexander Zverev shook his head almost in disbelief. He then congratulated Carlos Alcaraz on winning a highly one-sided match that was a lesson in himself. In the 1: 6, 2: 6 defeat in the round of 16 of the ATP tournament in Madrid, the Olympic champion with no chance was clearly shown the limits by the Spanish tennis star on Tuesday. Just under a month before the start of the French Open in Paris, the duel against the second in the world rankings was a great mood dampener for Germany’s best tennis players.
“It will be a huge test – and I’m looking forward to it too,” Zverev said before the first serve. But the anticipation quickly gave way to frustration in the match on the clay court at Manolo Santana Stadium. The list of deficiencies was long: the 26-year-old rarely scored points with the first serve, his attack shots lacked power and precision, a serve-and-volley game was too predictable for the opponent. Sometimes Zverev seemed almost helpless.
Alcaraz, on the other hand, acted almost flawlessly and converted his third match point after 1:22 hours. The US Open winner had expected more resistance from Zverev. “The result is not normal for me,” said the 19-year-old, “but I played great and felt very good. This match gives me a lot of self-confidence.” In the quarter-finals, number two seeded Alcaraz meets Russian Karen Khachanov.
Unlike Zverev, Daniel Altmaier had previously mastered the round of 16 hurdle. The 24-year-old from Kempen defeated the ailing Spaniard Jaume Munar 6:3, 6:0 in 85 minutes and thus continued his unexpected winning streak. Altmaier had never made it into the top eight in a Masters 1000 tournament in his career. In the quarterfinals he meets the Croatian Borna Coric.
For Zverev, on the other hand, the tournament is over. Another relatively early exit, as so often since his return after a long injury break due to a serious foot injury at the French Open last year. In the world rankings, Zverev will drop out of the top 20 for the first time since April 2017, but the realization hurts even more: he cannot currently compete with an exceptional talent like Alcaraz.
It was Zverev’s goal to play his “best tennis” again in the clay court season. He also saw himself on the right path there. He would only be “one or two percent missing from absolute top form”, the Hamburg native said in mid-April shortly before the start of the ATP tournament in Munich, in which he lost his opening match.
Zverev’s game lacks consistency. Physically, he seems to have recovered from the injury, but Zverev’s mental strength isn’t back yet. The chanceless appearance against Alcaraz should exacerbate the problem again.
“I’m far from winning against him right now – and you saw that today,” said the dejected Zverev afterwards on the Sky broadcaster: “He’s doing everything better than me at the moment, so it doesn’t really matter what I do planned for me.”