Rafael Nadal is a French Open runner-up for the 14th time in his career as a dramatic, long and messy semi-final ended in Alexander Zverev being forced to retire in the second set after severely twisting his ankle while chasing a ball and being wheeled off the court in a wheelchair.
After competing for over three hours without even managing to complete two sets, Nadal won 7-6(8), 6-6 ret. to get to the final.
Nadal, who turned 36 on Friday, will now play for a record 14th French Open title and 22nd major title, his record of wins-losses at Roland-Garros is now 111-3 (97%). After his triumph at the Australian Open, he will try to win the first two major tournaments of the year and pass the grand slam halfway.
“Very hard, right? Nadal said after Zverev’s retirement. “And very sad for him, honestly he was playing an incredible tournament. He is a very good colleague on the circuit. I know how hard he is fighting to win a Grand Slam but at the moment he has not had a chance.
“The one thing I’m sure of is that he won’t win one, way more than one, so I wish him all the best.”
As rain fell around Paris and the new Roland Garros roof was used for the first match of any real importance this year, indoor conditions were advantageous for Zverev, removing the elements from the equation.
With the dampness under the roof, Nadal was sweating profusely in the second game and while Zverev entered the baseline and efficiently cut through the conditions, Nadal’s topspin was blunted and he struggled to impose himself on his opponent.
It began with an almighty 92-minute opening set, the length of an entire football match, which produced moments of both grandeur and horror.
For much of the first set, Zverev was on fire. He started the match serving almost perfectly, crushing first serves while landing well over 80% of them, demolishing the ball from inside the baseline as Nadal was reduced to a spectator.
As Game 8 began and the stakes rose, his familiar struggles with his second serve and forehand resurfaced.
He lost his serve but then bounced back to lead 6-2 in the tiebreak. Against almost anyone else, the set would have been over, but instead Nadal saved all four set points. After Zverev missed an easy volley at 3-6, Nadal landed an outrageous forehand on the next point. Even as Nadal continued to struggle with his game, he got up to steal the set from Zverev with a thunderous forehand down the line.
Nadal broke serve early in the second set, suddenly over the baseline himself. But as in his five-set fourth-round match against Felix Auger-Aliassime, when he slowed momentum while leading by two sets to one, he launched a series of disastrous service games. What followed was a messy, shoddy set that was hard to watch at times.
The Spaniard struggled from the baseline, relying heavily on his dropshot instead of powerful groundstrokes, and Zverev double-faulted on break points, including three double-faults in one game as he served at 5-3. By 5-4 against Zverev, eight of the first nine games of the second set had been service breaks.
As the pair headed for a tiebreaker and Nadal attacked to the point of play on his serve, Zverev chased a forehand and badly twisted his right ankle.
He immediately started screaming in pain and he was quickly escorted off the pitch in a wheelchair, a rare sequence that immediately underscored the severity of his injury. After a short time, and as Nadal also walked off the pitch, Zverev returned to the pitch on crutches and waved to the crowd as his retirement was confirmed.
Although he reached the final, Nadal won’t be happy with his game after only staying ahead thanks to his endless fighting spirit and clutch game. However, in his on-court interview, a solemn Nadal made it clear that his performance was not important at that time: “It was a super difficult game, more than three hours and we didn’t even finish the game. second set,” he said. said. “So it’s one of the biggest challenges on the tour today when he’s playing at this very high level when playing against him.”
He continued: “Hard to say a lot of things today in this situation. Of course, for me, as everyone knows, to be in the Roland Garros final once again is a dream, no doubt. But at the same time, to end like this… I was there in the small room with Sascha before we got back on the court. Seeing him cry there is a very difficult moment, so I wish him the best.
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