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French Open: Rafael Nadal loses in straight sets 6-4, 7-6, 6-3 to Alexander Zverev in first round

May 27th, 2024

PARIS, FRANCE – MAY 27: Rafael Nadal of Spain stretches for a backhand against Alexander Zverev of Germany in a first-round match at the 2024 French Open. (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)

The last time Rafael Nadal and Alexander Zverev squared off at the French Open, it ended with Zverev being helped off the court after sustaining a serious ankle injury. Now two years later, the result was very different.

Nadal fell in straight sets – 6-4, 7-6, 6-3 – in a grueling three-hour match that the 14-time French Open winner said would likely be his final match at Roland Garros. He finishes with a record of 112 wins and four losses.

He was still Rafa, but muted. A little slower than we remember. A little heavier in the feet. The shots that used to fall so artfully on the line were now a few centimeters wide.

It wasn’t until the fifth game of the first set that Nadal started to really look like himself. He finally began hitting the ball with authority, attacking instead of constantly reacting, and using the entire court to challenge Zverev.

But it just wasn’t enough. Nadal has 112 career wins at Roland Garros, but we may have reached the point where that experience is a burden and no longer an advantage. He has 10 years on the 27-year-old Zverev, and a long history of foot, hip and abdominal injuries. He’s already dealt with hip and abdominal issues this season, which is one of the reasons Nadal looked tentative on Monday.

Flashes of the real Rafa were there. He could still hit the ball into impossible corners and create shots that no human could hope to return. Those moments were infrequent, but they were there.

And those moments built a foundation for Nadal to stand on in the second set. Down 2-1, he caught fire, finally unearthing his cross-court backhand and winning five points in a row for the first time in the match. He won the game to even the set at 2-2, jumping with delight while the capacity crowd at Philippe Chatrier delivered a deafening response. The audience was even louder when he won his second straight game to break Zverev for the first time.

Nadal fought back in a tremendous third set, thrilling the spectators at Court Philippe-Chatrier as he crossed the court to catch Zverev’s returns. But Zverev held and the constant pressure finally wore an exhausted Nadal down.

With an admiring crowd giving an adoring cheer for Nadal, Zverev was gracious in speaking after the match, ceding the moment to his renowned opponent.

“First of all, thank you, Rafa, from all of the tennis world,” he said. “It’s such a great honor. I’ve watched Rafa play all my childhood and was lucky enough to play him when I turned professional. Today is not my moment, it’s Rafa’s moment. Thank you.”

Nadal then took the microphone to thank the fans.

Bonjour a tous. I’d like to thank you all, it’s an incredible opportunity,” said Nadal, who missed last year’s tournament with a hip injury. “It’s difficult for me to talk. I don’t know if it’s going to be the last time in front of all of you. Honestly, I’m not sure.”

“I have been going through a very tough two years in terms of injuries,” he added. “I went through all these processes with the dream to come back to Roland Garros. The first round [draw] wasn’t ideal. It’s difficult to say what’s going on in the future.”

This content was originally sourced and posted at Yahoo! Sports – News, Scores, Standings, Rumors, Fantasy Games »
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