While the last qualifying matches took place in front of thousands of fans in a hectic and emotional atmosphere just a few hundred meters away at the Roland Garros facility in Paris, the Jean Bouin training center seemed like an oasis of calm on Thursday afternoon. There, a few days before the start of the most important clay court tournament in the world, the tennis professionals were largely among themselves.

Italy's star Jannik Sinner shuffled undisturbed along the curb to the entrance. Once there, the South Tyrolean was greeted by a lot of greenery and beautiful plant beds in addition to colleagues and tennis courts. At the same time, Jan-Lennard Struff trained on Court 24, equipped with a playful self-image after his recent participation in the final in Rome. The tournament favorites Carlos Alcaraz and Novak Djokovic did not seem much more self-confident. The only difference: they trained on Centre Court in front of full stands.

Severe ligament injury

Alexander Zverev also made this change between training in the idyll and units under a match atmosphere at this time last year. Arriving as number three and with a tournament victory in Madrid and a semi-final in Rome, Zverev combined the mixture of self-confidence and playful self-image that allowed him to defeat Alcaraz in Paris. The stroke of fate of the serious ligament injury in the semifinals at eye level against Rafael Nadal and the following seven-month forced break ended this phase abruptly.

The 20-year-old has been denied a tournament victory or a success against a top 26 player since his comeback in January. After his exit in the round of <> in Rome against the Russian Daniil Medvedev and a self-destructive interview afterwards, Zverev accepted a wildcard at the small ATP tournament in Geneva at short notice in search of self-image.

"2019 was probably even the year in which I played even worse than I do this year," said Zverev before the start of the tournament in Geneva, where he easily controlled the American Christopher Eubanks at the start and reached the semifinals on Thursday after his opponent, the Chinese Wu Yibing, had to give up in the first set. This Friday (15.20 p.m.) Zverev plays against Nicolás Jarry for a place in the final.

"Geneva was a good stepping stone," recalled Zverev, who won the tournament four years ago against Chilean Jarry, who was later banned for doping, and reached the quarterfinals in Paris. Zverev also cited "self-confidence" and "daily match practice" as motivations for his participation in Geneva in 2023. Zverev had stated in Rome that he was playing his "worst tennis" since 2015, 2016. Looking back on the third narrow defeat within a short time against Medvedev, Zverev stated. "It was a pretty bad interview." He understood that with Alcaraz and Medvedev he had only lost to two competitors.

He ruled out the Masters tournament in Miami due to slight injury concerns, and he did not mention Munich. For the most part, what he says is true. Zverev is no longer far away, but has been exposed to too many fluctuations in almost every match to defeat professionals of this caliber. The confrontations already in the round of 2016 with the in-form top players are due to the lower seeding of Zverev, who is no longer the German number one in the world rankings for the first time since 26. Struff in <>th place is one place ahead of him.

In the draw for the French Open on Thursday, the 22nd seeded German escaped the strong top half with Djokovic and Alcaraz. Zverev got a feasible draw in the South African Lloyd Harris, who is not a proven clay court specialist. Frances Tiafoe, Jannik Sinner – and Medvedev in the possible quarter-finals for the fourth time in 2023 are the top players in his quarter.

Being able to act at eye level against Tiafoe as early as the third round should be considered a success for Zverev at the moment. Match practice would help for this mission – as would hard training. "Daily" and "without a break" he had been working on the finishing touches since Rome. "I haven't lost a training set in the past four weeks," he said, "but I have to carry that into the match."

At his side in Geneva this week are his parents, former tennis pro Tobias Kamke as a hitting partner with additional tasks, long-term physiotherapist Hugo Gravil and fitness trainer Dalidor Sirola. He has become known in the academy of the successful Italian coach Riccardo Piatti and has replaced former professional rugby player Mark Bennett since February. A question about whether the Spaniard Sergi Bruguera will return as a coach in Paris was left unanswered by Zverev's team on Thursday.