With Dirk Nowitzki, German number one Alexander Zverev has chosen a very special training partner four days before the start of the Australian Open.

On Thursday, Zverev played a few balls with Nowitzki in Melbourne Park. The basketball idol is currently in Australia with his family. “So, can you?” asked Zverev during a little chat on the sidelines. Nowitzki’s slightly embarrassed reply was, “Well, if you play towards me…”.

The 44-year-old Nowitzki had played tennis in his youth before basketball. “I started when I was five and liked the competition. I was ranked sixth or seventh in Bavaria,” Nowitzki had once told Tennis Channel. Later, however, the 2.13-metre man decided against tennis and for a basketball career. “I was a little bored travelling to tournaments on weekends. I was also much taller than the others and got teased. I then stopped playing tennis when I was 15,” he explained.

No longer active, the long-time Dallas Mavericks pro has had a hard court built on his property for himself and his children. “I’m still a tennis freak,” Nowitzki explained. He is therefore likely to follow the Australian Open, which starts on Monday, with interest.

Start against a qualifier

At the first Grand Slam tournament of the year, Zverev will face a qualifier in the first round, according to the draw on Thursday. He is seeded number twelve after his long injury break due to a serious foot injury.