Boris Becker’s warning for Alexander Zverev ahead of French Open showdown with Rafael Nadal

German tennis legend Boris Becker has warned compatriot Alexander Zverev that he needs to avoid being intimidated by Rafael Nadal’s French Open legend when he steps on court with the 14-time champion for their eagerly anticipated first round clash in Paris.

In what is likely to be Nadal’s final French Open appearance, a showdown with in-form world No 4 Zverev is not what the Spanish icon would have wanted in the first round.

Nadal is set to play at the tournament he has won on a record 14 occasions for the final time, and he has his work cut out if he is to make it beyond the opening round.

Nadal won the title on his last appearance on the Parisian clay in 2022 but has played only four tournaments in the last year and a half because of hip problems and was well beaten by Hubert Hurkacz in the second round in Rome.

Now Becker has suggested Nadal’s best hope of upsetting Zverev is the aura he will bring with him onto the court.

“Something happens to Rafael Nadal when he walks through the gates at Roland Garros, he becomes stronger,” Eurosport tennis expert Becker.

“A lot of players play the name and not the player. The guy comes on and he says, here is the 14-time champion Rafael Nadal and instantly, you become smaller and Rafa becomes bigger.

“If he didn’t believe he is not ready to win the French Open again he would not play, so never ever bet against Rafael Nadal at the French Open.

READ MORE: Boris Becker identifies the moment Novak Djokovic ‘lost his magic’ and questions a big decision

“Believe me, no one wants to play Nadal on Court Philippe Chatrier, even if he is not in the best of condition right now.

“My tip for Zverev would be to play against the player and not against the myth.”

Becker admits he had to look twice to believe Nadal would take on Zverev in the first round in Paris, he he suggests the player he calls Sascha is the favourite to claim a win against an opponent he pushed all the way in the 2022 French Open semi-finals before he sustained a serious ankle injury.

“In the beginning, I didn’t believe it and thought that someone had made a mistake,” said Eurosport analyst Becker, as he reflected on the first round draw.

“Only then did I realise that Nadal wasn’t seeded this year. So it was logical. But at first, I actually thought that they were both seeded – because you’re just used to Rafa being seeded first or second in Paris.

“I think it’s a chance for Sascha to pick up where he left off with his injury in 2022. Sure, he’s competing against the 14-time Roland Garros champion, but Nadal is no longer the same as he was two years ago.

“Sascha, on the other hand, heralded his comeback with the semi-final in Paris last season and has been playing like someone who belongs in the top 5 ever since. Now he has the opportunity to climb even higher with a successful French Open.

“He was stopped on this path in the match against Nadal. I’m not talking about revenge now, because the injury wasn’t Nadal’s fault. But: Sascha was the number two in the world at the time and looked very good in that match. All the experts agree that two years ago he was probably the best Sascha Zverev we’ve ever seen. Now he has the chance to continue that.

“They’ll both still be thinking about it, although a lot has happened for both Nadal and Zverev in these two years. Sascha has to stay with himself and he mustn’t dwell too much on the past emotionally. It’s about being in the moment and playing accordingly. He won Rome and Nadal didn’t. That’s the status quo, that’s how he has to go into the match.”

“Rafa is the king of Paris and the fans will be behind him, but that doesn’t mean they’re against Sascha,” he added.

“He also has sympathy on his side. But of course, if you play against Nadal on Philippe-Chatrier, you can assume that the majority will be on his side. Sascha can’t change that, but can only respond with a good performance – and ultimately with victory. It will be a highly emotional, explosive match that the entire tennis world will be watching live.”

“There’s speculation everywhere about how long Rafa will play. Personally, I have my doubts, but on the other hand, I have incredible respect for Rafael Nadal’s lifetime achievement. The way he played tennis and triumphed was unrivalled.

“People always say it like this: he won the French Open 14 times. If you say it slowly: he won Roland Garros 14 times – that’s impossible! That’s simply impossible. The fact that he’s still playing and still not to be underestimated is incredible. My greatest respect.”

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