Rafael Nadal is a French Open finalist for the 14th time in his career as a thrilling, drawn out and chaotic semi-final ended with Alexander Zverev retiring in the second set. Zverev badly sprained his ankle chasing a ball and was wheeled off the pitch.
After battling each other for over three hours without completing the second set, Nadal won 7-6 (8), 6-6 on the back foot. move into the final.
Nadal, who was celebrating his 36th birthday, will be playing for a record-breaking 14th French Open title and 22nd Major title with his French Open win-loss record now 111-3 (97%). Following his Australian Open triumph, he will be looking to win the first two major tournaments of the year for the first time in his career.
“Very sad for him, to be honest, he played an incredible tournament,” Nadal said of Zverev, who had reached the semifinals for the second year in a row. “He is a very good colleague on the tour. I know how hard he’s fighting to win a Grand Slam, but he’s been very unlucky at the moment. I’m just sure he won’t win one [but] much more than one. So I wish him all the best.”
Nadal meets 8th seed Casper Ruud in the final after recovering from a set to defeat Marin Cilic 3-6 6-4 6-2 6-2 and his first Grand Slam final to reach. Ruud is the first Norwegian player to ever reach a major singles final.
As Ruud accelerated to victory, the match was halted for 10 minutes after a climate protester entered the field and taped herself to the net. The protester, who entered the courthouse and was able to attach herself to the net without security forces even responding, wore a shirt that read, “We have 1,028 days left.”
In the earlier semi-final, when rain fell around Paris, Roland Garros’ new roof was used for the first game of real importance of the year. While Zverev stepped into the baseline and sliced through the conditions effectively, Nadal’s topspin was blunted in the damp, causing the ball to flutter. He named them some of the slowest conditions he’s played in at Roland Garros. “I think the conditions were not ideal for me this afternoon,” said Nadal. “So I couldn’t do him the damage I wanted.”
It started with an almighty 92-minute opening movement that Zverev fired into. He served almost perfectly early on, crashing the first few serves, landing well over 80% of them and destroying the ball from inside the baseline when the match was on his racquet.
However, as the stakes rose, his well-known struggles with his second serve and forehand surfaced. Zverev lost serve, then saved three set points and rebounded to lead 6-2 in the tiebreak. The set would have been over against almost anyone else, but Nadal saved all four set points. After Zverev missed a slight volley when the score was 6: 3, Nadal released a particularly outrageously angled forehand pass winner at the following point.
While Nadal continued to struggle with his game, he’s commanding in the tight moments, rising to rob Zverev of the set with a thunderous forehand down-the-line passing winner. He called his incredible recovery a “miracle.”
Nadal broke serve in the opening game of the second set. But instead of breaking up, he threw in a series of terrible holds and a chaotic set ensued. Nadal struggled from the baseline, relying heavily on drop shots rather than weight on his groundstrokes, and Zverev twice had double faults on break points, including three double faults, while serving for the set at 5-3. A total of eight of the first nine games of the second set were breaks of serve.
As the pair headed for a tie break, Nadal attacked on serve at game point and Zverev severely twisted his right ankle while chasing a forehand. He immediately began screaming in pain and was promptly escorted out of court in a wheelchair, a rare sequence that underscored the seriousness of his injury. After a short period during which Nadal also walked off, Zverev returned to the pitch on crutches and greeted the crowd, which earned him a standing ovation while his match elimination was confirmed.
Afterwards, Nadal said that when he went to Zverev’s dressing room, he immediately underwent an ultrasound scan to check his ankle.
“It was a super tough match, over three hours and we didn’t even finish the second set,” said Nadal. “So today it’s one of the biggest challenges on the tour when he’s playing at this super high level.
“It’s difficult to say a lot of things in this situation today. Of course, as everyone knows, to be in the Roland Garros final again is without a doubt a dream. But at the same time, to finish up… I was in the small room with Sasha [Zverev] before we got back to court. Seeing him cry there is a very hard moment so all the best to him.”