Alexander Zverev and the allegations hanging over the French Open as assault trial begins

Alexander Zverev in action at the French Open this week  (Getty Images)
Alexander Zverev in action at the French Open this week (Getty Images)

Earlier this week, Alexander Zverev claimed one of the biggest victories of his career as the world No 4 became just the third player in 19 years to defeat Rafael Nadal at the French Open. The 27-year-old announced himself as the favourite to win the title during the fortnight in Paris, beating the 14-time champion and the ‘King of Clay’ in straight sets.

But on Friday morning in Berlin, Zverev’s attention will turn to a very different court. The German No 1 and reigning Olympic champion faces the start of a public trial at the Berlin criminal court, where he is charged with physically abusing a former girlfriend.

Zverev denies the allegations and is not required to appear at the trial in person, unless he is summoned by the judge. The fourth seed will continue to play at the French Open once proceedings are underway and said before the start of the tournament last weekend: “I believe in the German system. I do know what I did, I do know what I didn’t do. That’s, at the end of the day, what’s going to come out, and I have to trust in that. I do believe that I’m not going to lose this procedure. There’s absolutely no chance I am.”

In October, Zverev was issued with a penalty order and fined almost £400,000 by a Berlin court for committing bodily harm against his ex-girlfriend, Brenda Patea, who is also the mother of Zverev’s child. Patea alleges that Zverev pushed her against the wall of their Berlin apartment and choked her following an argument in May 2020. The German public broadcaster DW reported that court documents published before the trial claim Zverev “briefly strangled his then-partner by the neck with both hands”, resulting in “shortness of breath and considerable pain”.

Zverev defeated Rafael Nadal in the opening round of the French Open (Getty Images)
Zverev defeated Rafael Nadal in the opening round of the French Open (Getty Images)

Zverev is contesting the penalty order. In Germany, a penalty order is issued by a public prosecutor’s office when a trial is not considered to be necessary, such as when there is compelling evidence to support one side of the case. Zverev had the right to appeal the penalty order and maintains the presumption of innocence while he does so.

Zverev has described his former partner’s allegations as “bulls***”. Zverev and Patea had a daughter in 2021 and by that time they were no longer together. He said following his semi-final defeat to Daniil Medvedev at the Australian Open in January: “I have said it before: anyone who has a semi-decent IQ level understands what’s going on.” Zverev’s lawyers, Schertz Bergmann, meanwhile claim to have expert medical evidence to support the German’s denials. Zverev’s lawyers described the initial penalty order as “scandalous”.

In recent months, Zverev has come under scrutiny while he has continued to play on the professional tour. At the Australian Open in January, Zverev regularly faced questions regarding his criminal trial as he progressed through the tournament. Zverev’s election to the ATP Players Council was met with criticism, and the German rejected suggestions that he should not be playing on the tour while the court case was pending. "Journalists are saying that, some, who are actually interested more in this story to write about and more about the clicks than the actual truth," Zverev said.

Zverev has previously faced allegations of domestic abuse. Another former girlfriend of Zverev, Olga Sharypova, alleged in interviews in October 2020 and in August 2021 that Zverev had physically abused her during their relationship. Zverev strenuously denied the allegations, and in January 2023, following a 15-month investigation, the ATP announced that it would not be taking disciplinary action against him, citing “insufficient evidence” to substantiate the allegations. Following Patea’s allegations through the German legal system, the ATP said it would be “inappropriate” to comment on the case.

Alexander Zverev won the Rome title and is a contender at Roland Garros (Getty Images)
Alexander Zverev won the Rome title and is a contender at Roland Garros (Getty Images)

Zverev’s playing career was almost derailed after suffering a horrendous ankle injury in his French Open semi-final against Nadal in 2022, but he recovered to re-establish himself at the top levels of the game. Earlier this month, Zverev claimed his biggest title since his injury when he won the Italian Open in Rome, a performance that marked him as one of the favourites for the French Open given uncertainties surrounding the form and fitness of Novak Djokovic, Carlos Alcaraz and Jannik Sinner. Zverev’s performance against Nadal only strengthened the idea that he was ready to win his first grand slam title on the Paris clay.

Zverev said ahead of the French Open that the start of his criminal trial would not distract him, insisting he was playing with a “calm” head. The tournament director at the French Open, Amelie Mauresmo, said: “As long as the trial isn’t finished and there isn’t a decision, he’s considered innocent and so that’s why he’s allowed to be part of the draw.” For now, two of Zverev’s worlds will collide as his bid to win the French Open coincides with a very different battle in Berlin.