After matches that were hardly a test against Carlos Alcaraz and Alexei Popyrin, Rafael Nadal faced an opponent of a completely different caliber in the person of Alexander Zverev. Admittedly, he led 5-2 against the German in the game of confrontations but Zverev had beaten him the last two times. These having taken place on hard, Nadal could hope to put an end to this series. Alas, he conceded his first defeat on ocher against Zverev.
Even though he was titled at Barcelona, Nadal has yet to don the scarecrow costume he is almost always on clay. From one tournament to another, we have too often seen him be approximate to give him a won match even before the first exchange. Zverev, on the other hand, has been giving off a very strong impression since the start of the Masters 1000 in Madrid. Facing Dan Evans, Novak Djokovic’s striker in Monte-Carlo, we saw him in particular very leggy and regularly come to finish the points at the net. An attitude that we found against Rafael Nadal.
Because it is truly Zverev who behaved as a boss on the court. So much so that it took more than an hour to see Nadal’s first winning forehand. Very precise on the backhand, well mobile, the German did not retreat under the blows of his opponent. He stayed close to his line and it was he who robbed Nadal of time and forced him to play too much. To tell the truth, it was only at the very beginning of the meeting that he seemed in trouble. But, led 4-2, he quickly corrected the shot to win the next four games and complete the first set on an ace. Dark gaze towards his corner, Nadal could not find the solution and regularly took his head in his hands after gross mistakes.
The solution, however, the Spaniard has sometimes seen. Especially when he decided to play faster, ball rising, to take Zverev’s reaction time. He often won the point behind this pattern in the second set. But he did not know (could) apply this plan often enough. The fault with a first ball too often absent. The fault, above all, with an impeccable Zverev who never seemed to take the pressure during this match.
Dominated on a regular basis, Nadal will still have Rome (May 10-16) to correct what is currently wrong with his game (ball length, precision, first ball) before returning to his Roland-Garros (May 30-June 13) . Alexander Zverev will face another clay monster in the person of Dominic Thiem who is making a very convincing comeback in Madrid.