Alexander Zverev is cautiously optimistic about his chances of beating Rafael Nadal on clay. With a 6-3, 7-6(3) win over Daniel Evens on Thursday, the German set up a blockbuster quarter-final against Nadal at the Mutua Madrid Open.
Nadal leads their ATP Head2Head Series 5-2, but Zverev has won their past two matches (on indoor hard courts at the Rolex Paris Masters in 2020 and the Nitto ATP Finals in 2021).
“I’ve beaten him the last few times that we’ve played but obviously beating him on a clay court is very different,” Zverev told ATPTour.com. “I’ve had some tough battles. I think also when you beat him a few times in a row it doesn’t matter where it is he’s going to be more motivated to beat you the next few times.”
Nadal and Zverev’s last clay-court meeting was the 2018 Rome final, which Nadal won in three sets. They have never faced off in Madrid, where Nadal has the home-court advantage but the high altitude favours Zverev’s big serve and aggressive game style.
“There’s a higher bounce, and definitely the serve goes through the court quicker,” Zverev said. “Also the ball flies through the air much faster so you can play more aggressively here than you can play on other clay courts. But still, I think Rafa is the favourite anywhere he goes, that’s not going to change.”
The German, who won the title in Madrid in 2018, says Nadal’s greatest strength on clay may be his movement.
“He moves better on a clay court than he does on a hard court so it’s not easy to hit winners against him,” Zverev said. “But I have to manage it tomorrow and I have to definitely [hit winners].”
Zverev will be ready to bring his best against the best and he has certainly risen to the occasion before. While the World No. 6 has losing records against Nadal and Novak Djokovic, he has scored two wins against each of them, and he boasts a 4-3 winning record against Roger Federer.
“I feel like when you play against [the Big 3] you play in the later stages of a tournament, you play at the biggest moments,” the 23-year-old Zverev said. “And I feel like you’re playing at your best as well so you’ve got to play your best to have a chance. But I’ve also gotten killed by all of them a few times in my life so I hope tomorrow is not going to be a case like that.”
Zverev enters the highly anticipated showdown on the heels of a composed win over an on-fire Evans. Zverev had to be patient while the Brit switched up his tactics in the second set.
“He’s a great player with a lot of things he can change,” Zverev said of Evans. “You saw it during the match when he all of a sudden starting serving-and-volleying. He has a great variety in his game which can cause a lot of problems to a lot of top guys.”
Evans entered the week at a career-high FedEx ATP Tour Ranking of No. 26 after reaching the semi-finals in Monte-Carlo, complete with an upset of World No. 1 Djokovic.
On Friday, Zverev will be seeking his first clay-court semi-final appearance at the Masters 1000 level since losing to Nadal in the Rome final in 2018.