Rafael Nadal reached his 14th Roland Garros final on Friday, when Alexander Zverev’s epic battle was cut short on the eve of a second-set tie-break in a match that had already lasted more than three hours due to a serious ankle injury. One of the season’s most exciting matches was cut short at 7-6(8), 6-6 on Court Philippe Chatrier when the German had to leave the court in a wheelchair after badly rolling his right ankle while tracking down a Nadal forehand deep behind the baseline.
Following the fall, Zverev cried out in pain and had to be helped into a wheelchair by the physio and Nadal, who quickly made his way around the net to assist the 25-year-old. The World No. 3 returned to court on crutches several minutes later, clearly in pain, to shake the umpire’s hand. He was greeted with a standing ovation from the crowd and a hug from Nadal, who is now one win away from extending his Grand Slam record to 22.
“Very difficult and very sad for him,” Nadal said after the match on the court. “To be honest, he was having an incredible tournament. On the Tour, he’s a fantastic colleague. I know how hard he’s trying to win a Grand Slam, but he’s been extremely unlucky so far. The only thing I’m certain of is that he’ll win not one, but multiple awards. I wish him the best of luck and a speedy recovery.” Zverev had been putting on a show with his daring and brilliant tennis. In a dramatic first-set tie-break, Nadal held four set points before claiming the opener with a jaw-dropping combination of offense and defense.
The intensity remained high in a pulsating second set that went to a tie-break before a match that had all the makings to be the best of the year was cruelly cut short. Zverev’s chance of reaching No. 1 in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings by winning his first major has been snuffed out due to injury. “It was an extremely difficult match, lasting over three hours, and we didn’t even complete the second set.” Playing against him is one of the most difficult challenges on the Tour today, especially when he’s playing at such a high level,” Nadal added. “It’s difficult to say much about the situation today. Of course, as everyone knows, being in the final of Roland Garros for the second time is a dream come true for me.
“But, at the same time, to finish that way… I was in the small room with Sascha before we returned to court, and seeing him cry there is a very difficult moment, so all the best to him.”
Both players looked to dictate with their heavy-hitting as they pulled each other around in front of a raucous crowd in a three-hour, 13-minute physical brawl. The 36-year-old Spaniard came back from a break down in the first set, hanging in points and finding greater depth and weight on his groundstrokes to overcome an early attacking barrage from Zverev. After saving four set points in the tie-break, Nadal came back from 2/6 to win the first set in one hour and 31 minutes. The 91-time tour-level champion then showed his fighting qualities in the second set, rallying from 3-5 to force a tie-break.
Unfortunately for the German, he was unable to continue after injuring his ankle in the final point of the second set’s 11th game. The injury cut short a match that had been shaping up to be one of the best of the season. This weekend, the fifth seed hopes to win his 14th Roland Garros title and a record-extending 22nd Grand Slam title at the clay-court major. If Nadal defeats Casper Ruud or Marin Cilic in the final on Sunday, he will surpass countryman Andres Gimeno as the tournament’s oldest champion.
The World No. 5 defeated long-time rival Novak Djokovic in a four-hour, ten-minute thriller at Roland Garros to improve to 29-30 in their ATP Head2Head series and set the stage for their tenth meeting. Zverev, who lost in the semi-finals to Stefanos Tsitsipas last season, was attempting to join 1996 runner-up Michael Stich as the second German man to reach the Roland Garros final in the Open Era. Zverev advanced to the championship match in Madrid last month before reaching the semi-finals in Rome. In April, the German reached the final four on clay in Monte Carlo. Meanwhile, Nadal has won the Australian Open, Melbourne Summer Set, and Abierto Mexicano Telcel presented by HSBC this season, improving his record to 29-3.
The 91-time tour-level champion, who is 111-3 at Roland Garros, has never won both the Australian Open and Roland Garros in the same season.