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French Open title will not end domestic abuse controversy for Alexander Zverev

Alexander Zverev roars in delight as he reaches French Open final - French Open title will not end domestic abuse controversy for Alexander Zverev
Alexander Zverev roars in delight as he reaches the French Open final - Shutterstock

For most neutrals, picking a player to support during Sunday’s French Open final will not take lengthy consideration. On one side, Carlos Alcaraz, the creative genius who is seen as the saviour of tennis. On the other, Alexander Zverev.

It is perhaps a mercy for the tournament that Zverev’s domestic violence trial was discontinued on Friday morning by a criminal court in Berlin. At least there is no prospect of the Coupe des Mousquetaires being lifted by a man convicted of an offence.

And yet, as the Tiergarten District Court told the BBC: “The decision is not a verdict and it is not a decision about guilt or innocence.”

As part of an out-of-court settlement with his former girlfriend Brenda Patea, Zverev paid €150,000 to the state treasury and €50,000 to a charitable fund. The case ended prematurely in shades of grey – not that you would have known it from Zverev’s triumphalist position on Friday night.

Asked whether he was disappointed not to have completely cleared his name, Zverev replied: “That’s what dropping the case is. That is innocence. They’re not going to drop the case if you’re guilty… We move on. I never ever want to hear another question about the subject again. That goes out to everybody.”

Whether he has a clean conscience, Zverev remains a hard man to warm to. Shortly after another previous girlfriend (Olya Sharypova) had made similar allegations in October 2020, which he also denied, he finished the Paris Masters as runner-up, and promptly hijacked the presentation ceremony.

In his own eyes, victory would mean redemption

“There’s gonna be a lot of people that try to wipe the smile off my face,” said Zverev then. “But under this mask I’m smiling brightly. I’m probably gonna be a father soon. Everything is great in my life right now. The people keep trying… but I’m still smiling under this mask.”

Through three-and-a-half years of unproven allegations, Zverev’s dominant mode has been defiance. Yes, he can now “move on”, as he put it in the interview room on Friday. But not without some hangover from all the ill feeling.

Even if we accept his position on the Berlin trial, Zverev’s CV features other dubious entries. What about his default from the 2022 Mexican Open after hitting the umpire’s chair with his racket? Or the Covid-era incident in which he promised to self-isolate and was then filmed dancing in a Monte Carlo beach bar? Or even the minor imbroglio over the coin toss during Wednesday’s quarter-final, in which he seemed to change his call to earn choice of ends? One way or another, it is hard to deny that Zverev attracts controversy.

Throughout all the chatter, Zverev has continued to work at his game (with the exception of the seven months that he spent recovering from an ankle injury sustained at Roland Garros two years ago). He comes into Sunday’s final on a 12-match winning streak, which included wins over some of the finest clay-court players in the world: Holger Rune, Casper Ruud and 14-time French Open champion Rafael Nadal.

One cannot knock Zverev’s dedication, nor the quality of his tennis, which revolves around arguably the most lethal serve in the sport. Yet even his strokeplay feels uninspiring. His grinding, repetitive baseline style stands in stark contrast to Alcaraz’s mercurial gifts.

In Zverev’s own eyes, victory on Sunday over Alcaraz – whom he leads 5-4 in previous meetings – would mean redemption. One wonders, however, whether the rest of the world would agree.

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