Rafael Nadal burst onto the scene at a very young age, gathering notable results and becoming one of the most successful teenagers in the game's history. For some ten years after Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray, Juan Martin del Potro, Marin Cilic and Kei Nishikori, teens had a steep path towards the top of men's tennis.
One of the names that emerged as a strong contender was Alexander Zverev, a talented German who cracked the top-20 in October 2016 and claimed two ATP titles before the next spring. Alexander came to Monte Carlo in 2017 two weeks after reaching his first Masters 1000 quarter-final in Miami, standing above all other U21 players and hoping for another deep run at his home event, moving from Hamburg to Monte Carlo like many other athletes.
By the will of the draw, Rafael Nadal and Zverev were scheduled to meet in the third round, passing the first obstacles to set the clash on April 20, the day Alexander celebrated the 20th birthday. Nadal certainly didn't give the youngster a present he wanted, breezing past the German 6-1, 6-1 in 68 minutes to reach the 13th quarter-final in the Principality and score the milestone 60th victory at one of his favorite events from 64 encounters!
They played twice before, in Indian Wells 2016 and three months ago in Melbourne, with Nadal having to dig deep to grab wins in those, as Zverev pushed him to the limits on both occasions. This encounter was quite the opposite, as Rafa ruled the court to dominate from start to finish, using all of his advantages on the slowest possible clay.
Zverev delivered one of his first notable results exactly on clay, reaching the semi-final in Hamburg 2014 at 17 and winning his first Challenger in Braunschweig also on dirt. Still, there was nothing he could do against Nadal as a birthday boy, making plenty of errors from both wings and never finding a good rhythm to stay at only two games.
In 2017, Rafael Nadal beat Alexander Zverev 6-1, 6-1 in Monte Carlo third round.
Zverev served at 67%, but outside nine service winners, it was a performance to forget, getting broken five times in seven service games. On the other hand, Nadal was rock solid behind the initial shot, dropping seven points in seven service games and never facing a break chance or a deuce.
It was a fast and fluid battle, with half of the points landing in the area with four shots or less, where Nadal had a 28-18 advantage. The Spaniard had eight service winners and, more importantly, his initial groundstrokes after serve or return were spot on, unlike Zverev, who struggled to follow that pace.
Like with service winners, they had a similar number of winners from the field, with 11 for Rafa and nine for Alexander. Forehand was the primary weapon for both, but they notched a few winners with volleys as well, while backhand stayed silent as they hit just one each.
The unforced errors department was the one that drove Zverev away from any glimpse of a chance in this match after spraying 30, 15 from a forehand and 11 from a backhand side. His groundstrokes were already among the best in the game at that point, but nothing worked for Alexander on that day, unable to find rhythm or pace that would have driven Nadal out of his comfort zone or make him work harder to earn points.
Rafa stayed on just eight unforced errors, unchallenged in the rallies and keeping a ball in play and waiting for his opponent to make an error. Zverev had nine forced mistakes, four more than the Spaniard, with his mistakes highlighting the entire match in general, preventing a more entertaining battle and a quality clash that everybody wanted to see.
Like in those shortest points, Nadal had the authority in the mid-range rallies from five to eight shots, taking 19 from 27 and securing eight out of 11 exchanges with nine to 12 strokes. Interestingly, Alexander stayed in touch in the eight most extended points, but that was far from enough to give him anything more than those two games against such a strong rival.