The spectators at the Stade Roland Garros caught their breath. Alexander Zverev kept crying and screaming. The 25-year-old lay in the red sand and expressed his pain.
On the home stretch of the second set, the German twisted his ankle badly on the baseline. When trying to prevent the tie-break, the man from Hamburg fell and had to end the semi-finals of the French Open against Rafael Nadal early with a score of 6: 7 (8:10), 6: 6. He was pushed off the pitch in a wheelchair.
A marathon match had announced itself up to the abrupt end. Although the second round wasn’t over yet, the two opponents had been facing each other for more than three hours. The first set was a record for the 2022 tournament at 98 minutes. Round two would probably have exceeded the duration.
With a win in the final on Sunday, Zverev would have had the chance to finally secure his first title in a Grand Slam tournament and thus become number one in the world rankings.
The German had previously given Nadal a big fight and repeatedly put the clay court king, who can now win his 14th title in Paris, under serious pressure. However, the German number one was unable to take advantage of many opportunities. This is how Nadal made it to the final of the French Open once again.
“It’s very hard for him. I am very sorry about that. He played incredible tennis,” Nadal said in the on-court interview. “I know how hard he is fighting to win a Grand Slam tournament. I’m sure he won’t just win one, but several,” said the Spaniard about Zverev. “To be back in the Paris final is a dream. But at the moment it’s hard to find words when I just saw him crying in the dressing room.”
As soon as he entered the Philippe Chatrier court, Nadal received an ovation. The spectators rose from their seats and applauded – as if they could admire the exceptional Spanish talent live for the last time. In honor of his birthday, the audience even serenaded. Everything was set for the next Rafael Nadal show on the red sands of Paris.
Because of the rain in the French capital, the roof over the largest stadium in the complex was closed. The mood was electrifying as Nadal opened the game at 3:05 p.m.
But Zverev wasn’t impressed by any of this at first. The German number one played aggressively from the start and surprised Nadal with numerous unattainable shots. Right at the start he took the serve from the Spaniard. A murmur went through the arena. There had probably never been encouraging “Rafa, Rafa” calls at such an early stage in Paris.
For seven games, Zverev then played the best tennis he had ever played in a Grand Slam tournament. But then there was a sudden break in the game of the German. Nadal was still far from his top form, but Zverev suddenly made many slight mistakes. So he let Nadal back into the game, and the Spaniard made the break to make it 4: 4 to equalize.
After that, the game went back and forth. When the score was 4: 5, Zverev fended off three set balls from Nadal and then did not use two break balls in the Spaniard’s subsequent service game. In the tie-break, Zverev suddenly had four set balls. Zverev missed one with a slight volley error, Nadal fended off the rest in a manner known from him on the Center Court in Paris – pure world class.
But Zverev resisted, fended off two more set balls from Nadal, only to lose the first round after 1:31 hours – because Nadal used his sixth set ball with an incredible passing ball to the deafening cheers of the spectators.
The back and forth continued in the second set. Zverev immediately lost serve but fought back and continued to make life incredibly difficult for Nadal. When the score was 5:3, he served to win the set, but made three double faults. The decision should be made again in the tie-break, but when trying to prevent it, Zverev unhappily twisted his ankle.