With Alexander Zverev’s win in Rome, has the tennis guard finally changed or should we not read too much into Rafa Nadal’s early exit? In a bid to get to the bottom of it all, the tennismash crack team of Vivienne Christie, Paul Moore and Leigh Rogers opted to have a darn good #SmashTalk.
Is Alexander Zverev a genuine contender for Roland Garros?
Viv Christie: Why shouldn’t he be? With a first win over Novak Djokovic, a first ATP Masters 1000 title and first venture into the world’s top 10, a Slam is an obvious next first. With three 2017 titles already, you sense the Sascha Zverev flood gates are officially open.
Paul Moore: I don’t think so. His performance in Rome was undoubtedly impressive, and one that the ATP has been crying out for. But winning six three-set matches at a Masters 1000 is a completely different proposition to winning seven five-set matches at a Slam. If the draw is favourable he can certainly go deep, but I think he still has a bit of physical and mental development to do before he can outwit the ‘big boys’ at a Slam.
Leigh Rogers: The German is the only member of the top 20 who has never reached a Grand Slam fourth round, so a week ago I would have said he was a threat rather than a genuine contender. However after his Rome breakthrough, the 20-year-old deserves to be now considered as one of Rafael Nadal’s biggest challengers for the title.
How much should we read into Rafa Nadal’s defeat in Rome?
VC: Hmmm, tricky. An unbeaten clay court lead-up would have been the perfect predecessor for Rafa to seize another Roland Garros record. At the same time, he’d clearly played a lot of matches on the surface: 18 in fact, 17 of them wins as he surged to three consecutive titles. While the loss to Thiem highlighted that Nadal is beatable, the enforced break might ultimately help physicality and boost his determination.
PM: That he’s going to be hungrier than ever at Roland Garros. The reality is that Rafa should not have played Rome in the first place – he had won three tournaments in four weeks and didn’t need another title. Going out early has not only given him a few extra days rest ahead of Paris, but will have made him realise that he is still fallible on clay. He’ll be training with that in mind, and I still believe he is the standout favourite for the French Open crown.
LR: Nothing. Rafa had played a lot of matches in the lead-up to Rome and after three consecutive titles can you blame him for being a bit fatigued? The resulting extra rest leading into his French Open campaign is more an advantage than disadvantage.
Azarenka, Kvitova and Sharapova could all be playing in the Wimbledon maindraw. Who are you most looking forward to seeing back in Grand Slam action?
VC: Can I cop out and say all of them? No? Let’s go with Azarenka then. As much as we’d love to see Petra back on court, she can do without the pressure. And given the circumstances that saw her temporarily leave tennis, Sharapova has hogged far too much of the spotlight already. Vika will bring back spirit, personality and a rare ability to showcase consistency.
PM: It has to be Vika Azarenka. Obviously it will be great to see Petra Kvitova back on the court, and Maria Sharapova brings a unique X-Factor to women’s tennis. But Azarenka? She is the real deal. A bona fide No.1 player, and the only woman who can consistently stare down Serena Williams when the American is at her best. The WTA need Vika back in – and on top of – the sport, and women’s tennis will be all the better for it.
LR: The feel-good choice is Kvitova. To have her career derailed in the manner it was, was just horrific. As a result, she has the hardest road back of the trio, so I think it will take more time for her to return to her best. My expectations are much higher for Azarenka, who seems hungrier than ever. A fit and firing Azarenka is exactly what the women’s game needs right now – and will be exciting to watch!
Why do you think Novak Djokovic turned to Andre Agassi?
VC: Firstly, I think an out-of-sorts Novak craves empathy. As he said himself, Andre has been where he’s been before. But he also knows that the American won’t tread lightly: endlessly articulate but considerably more edgy than his ‘elder statesman’ status would have us believe, Andre can deliver the right messages to Novak in just the manner they’re needed.
PM: Only Novak really knows the answer to that. What we do know is that he has been wrestling with his off-court demons recently, and Andre Agassi knows all about conquering those. Agassi is also one of the few people in the world who knows what it’s like to be in Novak’s shoes (from a character perspective perhaps moreso than Boris Becker). Having someone in his box who knows what he’s going through both on and off the court may well provide the stability Novak needs to re-balance ‘the ship’.
LR: There are a lot of similarities between the pair so it seems like a perfect fit. If there is a former champion who best understands motivational struggles at their peak it is Agassi – so it is smart move for Novak to seek advice from him. Whether or not it is a long-term arrangement, Agassi’s perspective and experience can only help considering the position the Serb’s career is currently in.
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