By Martyn Herman
LONDON (Reuters) – The raw material has never been in doubt but Germany’s Alexander Zverev now has the mentality to start punching his weight in the grand slams, according to two former French Open champions.
Zverev, 21, is seeded two at Roland Garros after rising to third in the ATP rankings and all eyes will be on him as he attempts to shrug off a surprisingly poor record at the majors and stamp his authority on the Parisian clay.
He has yet to beat a top-50 opponent at the Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledon or U.S. Open and has still to venture past the fourth round at any of them.
In Melbourne this year he appeared demoralized after losing 6-0 in the fifth set to South Korean youngster Hyeon Chung in the third — earning only five points in a deciding-set meltdown.
Few expect such a statistical anomaly to last much longer though and after Zverev’s Madrid Open title, his third Masters 1000 crown, and reaching the final in Rome where he worried claycourt king Rafa Nadal, he looks a prime candidate for a long run in the French capital.
Three-times Roland Garros champion Mats Wilander says Zverev has now put together the final pieces of the jigsaw.
“I don’t think it’s a mental block (his poor run in grand slams). A bit of bad luck, a bit of uncertainty about what style he should play on all the surfaces,” Wilander, who will be hosting his Game, Schett and Mats show for Eurosport during the Paris fortnight, told Reuters.
“Tactically he is way more mature now in the last two, three, four months, even then he was at the Australian Open.
“He’s way more certain of how he needs to play now. Tactically he is going to be as good as anyone we’ve ever seen now he’s figured out what he’s doing.
“He really is thinking and playing an intuitive game plan now whereas at the Aussie Open he was searching for something.”
Zverev will get an early chance to lay down a marker in the Parisian dirt on Sunday when he plays Ricardas Berankis of Lithuania in the first round.
His first big test could be a potential fourth-round clash with 2015 champion Stan Wawrinka.
American Jim Courier, champion in Paris in 2001 and 2002, said Zverev will on a high after his impressive build-up on the European claycourts.
“He won Madrid and reached the final in Rome so he will have a huge amount of confidence and momentum,” Courier, who will be analyzing for broadcaster ITV, told Reuters.
“Whether he still has doubts about whether he can do it in the slams only he knows that. But we will find out. He has a pretty attractive draw early on. He doesn’t have too many weaknesses.”
Zverev has been at pains to play down his questionable record on the biggest stages.
“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,” he said. “Those things are not going to be on my mind. It’s not going to be on anybody’s mind.”
(Editing by Clare Fallon)