Alexander Zverev and Dominic Thiem, who were potential quarter-final opponents at Roland Garros, practised together on Saturday. But by the time Zverev took to Court Suzanne-Lenglen on Sunday for his first-round match, two-time finalist Thiem was already eliminated. Considering the Austrian had made at least the quarter-finals in Paris in his past five appearances, that was jarring for Zverev.
For a moment, it appeared Zverev was in trouble, too. The sixth seed quickly fell two sets down against fellow German Oscar Otte, and he admitted that the Thiem stunner potentially had something to do with it.
“To be very honest, I think it did have a little impact on me at the beginning of the match, because yes, you try to focus on yourself, you try to not pay too much attention, but you do know the draw,” Zverev said. “You know who is where. You know that Dominic is one of the best clay-court players, especially here, one of the toughest opponents you can have, and then he’s out.
“So yes, it does affect you a little bit. But maybe that was part of the reason why I was a little bit nervous in the beginning [and why] I started off a little bit slow.”
Thiem had lost his opening match in Lyon against Cameron Norrie. But when Zverev trained with the fourth seed on Saturday, nothing seemed amiss.
“The way we were playing, the level was incredibly high, and he lost today,” Zverev said. “Matches and practices are still a little bit different. You still need the matches, you still need to get into the tournament. [Oscar] already had three matches, I think that’s a big difference.”
Zverev forcing a fifth set in Paris?
— Roland-Garros (@rolandgarros) May 30, 2021
Instead of panicking and suffering his first opening-round exit at a Grand Slam since Wimbledon in 2019, Zverev raised his level and triumphed 3-6, 3-6, 6-2, 6-2, 6-0. The two-time Roland Garros quarter-finalist is now 7-0 in five-setters at the clay-court major.
“I feel quite confident maybe in my physical stand. From that side maybe I know I can go the distance,” Zverev said. “I don’t always need to. I know that, as well, but when I need to, I feel comfortable doing that.”
It wasn’t a perfect start to the tournament for the 2018 Nitto ATP Finals champion, but Zverev lives to fight another day. In the second round, he will play Russian qualifier Roman Safiullin.
“All in all, I’m happy to be through,” Zverev said. “At the end of the day, that’s all that matters for me right now.”