From being an "underdog" and being written off by most, Rafael Nadal has turned himself into a favourite at the 2022 French Open following his scintillating win over arch-rival and defending champion Novak Djokovic in the quarterfinal earlier this week. But up next stands yet another tough challenge, in Alexander Zverev, who aims to spoil Nadal's 36th birthday on Friday in their semi-final meeting on court Philippe Chatrier.
Despite his stagging numbers on la terre battue, the concerns around his foot injury and Djokovic's overwhelming numbers in the build-up to the highly-anticipated clash, Nadal was the second favourite for the clash of titans. But the Spaniard overcame the hurdle in a vintage quarter-final of four sets to book his place in his 15th semi-final at the French Open.
Nadal will now have another mountain to climb. 19-year-old Carlos Alacarz was the favourite from the second quarter of the draw, but the third-seeded German fended off a strong comeback from the teenage sensation to reach his second straight semi-final at the French Open and give himself hope of not just securing his maiden Grand Slam title, but also a shot at the World No.1 crown.
Ahead of the blockbuster semi-final meeting on court Philippe Chatrier, we take a look at the factors that would decide the match.
The second is first priority
Zverev has managed to get 68 per cent of his first serves in and won an impressive 72.3 per cent of points behind in, compared to Nadal's win rate of 70.5 per cent on his first serve. However, the 25-year-old has managed only 44.6 win percentage on his second serve and what makes it of a concern is that the Spaniard has won 58 per cent of points behind his second offering.
The 35-year-old has also been among the best returners in this edition of the tournament winning almost 46 per cent of the points in his return games. He has also forced his opponent to deuce as many as 51 times, 17 of which were during his match against Djokovic. He has also converted 46 per cent of break points. However, Zverev has a high percentage of break points saved in this tournament with a rate of 62 per cent (23/37).
Keeping Nadal's heartbeat in check
The key to Nadal's dominance on clay has been the mid-length rallies (5-8 shots). He has won 192 points to 116 errors in this rally zone with a win rate of 62.3 per cent compared to Zverev's 47 (150/169). In fact, in that nail-biting fourth-round clash against Felix Auger-Aliassime, it was Nadal's win rate on mid-length rallies (54/34) that stayed among the key deciding factors.
Zverev, on the other hand, has relied a lot on the 'serve+1' tactic, winning 57.6 per cent of points. The only game where he failed to dominate in this rally length was in the match against Alcaraz (57/61). It was a strategy that had handed Zverev his only win over Nadal on clay - at the 2021 Madrid Open semi-final.