Paris: It’s been 80 years since a German man won Roland Garros but despite his stunning demolition of Novak Djokovic in Rome, Alexander Zverev insists he is not the French Open champion in waiting.
The 20-year-old Zverev heads for Paris viewed as the man most likely to profit should nine-time champion Rafael Nadal, world number one Andy Murray and 2016 winner Djokovic falter.
“You know, when I was about 11, 12, I thought by the age of 20 I’d probably win about four Slams already,” joked the beanpole German keen to keep a lid on growing expectations that the sport’s much-touted ‘Next Gen’ is about to gatecrash the Grand Slam closed shop.
There’s little doubt that 20-year-old Zverev is the real deal.
He boasts an address amongst the high-rollers of Monte Carlo, while flitting between Hamburg and Florida.
Three titles have already come his way in 2017 — indoors at Montpellier and crucially, in terms of Roland Garros, on clay at Munich and in Rome on Sunday.
There he stunned Djokovic in straight sets, becoming the youngest champion in the Italian capital since a 19-year-old Nadal in 2006.
He was also the youngest Masters winner since Djokovic, at 19, captured Miami a decade ago.
Furthermore, he was the first player born in the 1990s to win a Masters crown and only the fourth German after Boris Becker, Michael Stich and Tommy Haas.
The legacy of Becker, the last German man to win a Slam of any description at the 1996 Australian Open — a year before Zverev was even born — stalks the young pretender, like so many of his compatriots in the last two decades.
But he has already achieved what Becker, a six-time major champion and winner of 49 career titles, failed to do — win a clay court tournament.
At Roland Garros, Becker never made it past the semi- finals.
Zverev, now at a career high of 10 in the world following his Rome triumph, will be playing in his third Roland Garros.
He made the third round last year while, in 2013, he was runner-up in the junior final.
But he has no doubt that the rejuvenated Nadal, bidding for a 10th French Open, remains the overwhelming favourite for the 2017 title.
“Strong favourite,” he added for emphasis.
“I think Novak is playing quite great again. Dominic (Thiem, who beat Nadal in Rome) has been showing he’s been playing very, very well.
“I’ve got to put me on that list even though, you know, I don’t want to sound like I want to say that I’m the favourite myself or something like this.
“But, you know, those kind of guys who have been playing the best over the last few weeks are definitely the favourites.