Boom youngster Alexander Zverev looks to take down the ‘King of Clay’ Rafael Nadal on his 20th birthday as the pair square off in the third round of the Monte Carlo Rolex Masters on Thursday.
How did you spend your 20th birthday? Alexander Zverev will celebrate the conclusion of his teenage years by taking on the best clay court player in history at a tournament he’s won an astonishing nine times. Bit different to yours no? All jokes aside, this showdown is shaping as one of the most highly-anticipated matches of the season, with Zverev aiming to overturn a 0-2 record against 14-time grand slam champion Nadal, with both losses coming in heartbreaking fashion. By contrast, Nadal is targeting a third straight triumph over the Next Generation star as he continues his quest for an unprecedented 10th Monte Carlo Rolex Masters crown. Don’t miss one of the biggest matches of the season as Nadal and Zverev take to court around 2.00pm local time on Thursday (1.00pm BST).
Hailed as the tournament favourite in Monte Carlo due to the questionable form of Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic (and the absence of Roger Federer), Rafael Nadal survived a big scare in his opening match on Wednesday against Great Britain’s Kyle Edmund.
Nadal was confronted with an unexpected almighty battle against the 22-year-old Edmund - especially after he cruised through the first set 6-0, the 10th time he had delivered a bagel in Monte Carlo. However Edmund bounced back superbly in the second set, and despite relinquishing a break lead midway through, he remained composed as a tiebreak seemingly loomed to break on his first set point as Nadal shanked a backhand.
Edmund continued to seize the initiative in rallies and step into the court with the hope of finishing points early, and his aggression was rewarded early in the decider as he created a break opportunity while leading 2-1. Nadal would survive, initiating a spell of three straight service breaks, but Nadal regained control of the encounter midway through the set, winning the final three games of the match to emerge a 6-0 5-7 6-3 winner.
Nadal, who won eight straight Monte Carlo Masters titles between 2005 and 2012 and reclaimed the title last year with a three set win over Gael Monfils in the final, moves to 20-5 for the season, with his highlights including three runner-up finishes at the Australian Open, Miami Masters and Acapulco. Nadal was stopped by the resurgent Roger Federer in Melbourne and Miami, as well as the fourth round in Indian Wells. However, with Federer absent from Monte Carlo and perhaps the entire clay season, Nadal has an opportunity to go on a dominant run himself, but he will have to lift his game again as he is tasked with arguably the toughest third round draw of any of the top seeds.
Alexander Zverev (Photo by YANN COATSALIOU/AFP/Getty Images)
Alexander Zverev, while marketed by the ATP World Tour as part of their Next Generation campaign, is undoubtedly a star of the present, and he will be searching for one of the biggest wins of his young career when he steps out onto court on his 20th birthday to face Nadal on Thursday.
Zverev has been in scintillating form in just his second appearance in the Monte Carlo Rolex Masters main draw, crushing Andreas Seppi 6-1 6-2 in the first round before producing an equally as emphatic performance to dispatch Feliciano Lopez 6-0 6-4 in what was his last match as a teenager on Wednesday. The German has made a seamless transition from hardcourts to clay and his game is tailor-made for the surface as he has more time to set up his booming groundstrokes.
Currently the youngest top 20 player in almost a decade, Zverev’s rise to prominence over the last year or so has been quite remarkable, with the now 20-year-old picking up a pair of ATP titles at St. Petersburg and Montpellier, along with beating the likes of Roger Federer and Stan Wawrinka. Zverev would register his second win over Wawrinka last month en route to his first Masters 1000 quarter-final in Miami, where he would ultimately fall in a close battle with fellow rising star Nick Kyrgios.
Now Zverev has the chance to make back-to-back Masters 1000 quarter-finals, and he knows he has the game to trouble Nadal. This will be their first meeting on clay, but Zverev could easily have a 2-0 record over the Spaniard if not for a bit of bad luck. Zverev missed an absolute sitter of a volley on match point to lose to Nadal last year at Indian Wells, while he was struck down by cramp midway through the fifth set of their Australian Open third round showdown earlier this year.
Zverev knows the formula for taking down Nadal. Attacking the Spaniard’s forehand with his backhand with deep, flat shots to open up Nadal’s own backhand side. Nadal’s defence will be even harder to break down on clay, which will test Zverev’s patience from the baseline. This clash has all the makings of a classic if both play their best tennis. The rising star up against the established veteran and the undisputed King of Clay. I think Zverev will take a set - especially when you take Nadal’s form against Edmund into consideration - but I also think Nadal recognises the immense challenge he will be confronted with and will lift accordingly. Nadal to prevail in three.