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Zverev sees off Nadal to advance to second round at French Open

By Paul Myers - RFI
Europe  RENE-WORMS Pierre
MON, 27 MAY 2024 LISTEN
© RENE-WORMS Pierre

Alexander Zverev on Monday joined Robin Soderling and Novak Djokovic as the only men to beat Rafael Nadal at the French Open since 2005.

The 27-year-old German prevailed 6-3, 7-6, 6-3 to dispatch Nadal at the earliest point from the competition he has won 14 times.

"It's such a great honour to play him," said Zverev immediately after his first-round victory in front of a packed Court Philippe Chatrier.

"I watched him all my childhood and I've been lucky enough to play him a few times."

Good fortune was far from Zverev two years ago when the pair met in the semi-finals at the French Open. The then third seed was in the ascendance but twisted his ankle during the second set and was forced to retire. Nadal went on to claim a 14th title. 

Fast forward two years and following his health issues, Nadal, 37, has plummeted to 276 in the world rankings while Zverev has returned from the injury to recover his stature on the circuit and a fourth-place ranking on theATP lists. He underlined his clay court credentials last week with victory at the Italian Open.

And the fourth seed was gifted Nadal's opening service game of the encounter.

The Spaniard fluffed a drop shot, served a double fault, watched Zverev unleash his first forehand winner and then plopped a backhand into the net. 

Zverev held his own service to lead 2-0 and he maintained his advantage before taking Nadal's service for a second time to claim the opener after 51 minutes.

Nadal – feeding off the energy of he crowd – hustled his way back into the tie. Some trademark fist pumps after rasping winners fired up his admirers. 

But Zverev played deadpan. He clenched his fist briefly after Nadal failed to serve out the second set.

And then stayed calm to stave off two points to give Nadal a 6-5 lead.

In the tiebreak, a bravura forehand winner on the run brought Nadal to within a point of Zverev at 4-5 but then a poorly executed drop shot gave Zverev two set points.

Nadal saved one with another drop shot but Zverev won the next point on the back of a 202km first serve to take control of the match after one our and 48 minutes.

Chance

The arena sensed a classic in the offing when Nadal got the early break in the third set to lead 2-0. But the expectation evaporated when he failed to consolidate and was reined in. 

Once Zverev claimed Nadal's service again, his belief grew as the fans urged a last hurrah from Nadal.

Zverev's 14th backhand winner secured the point for a 5-3 lead and another helped him to the first point of Nadal's attempt to stay in the match.

Nadal failed. 
"I am not sure if it's the last time that I'll be here," Nadal told the on-court interviewer Marc Maury. "But if it is i enjoyed it. It's so special to feel the love of the people in the place that I love the best.

"Maybe I'll be able to say in a few months," he added. "I hope to be back on the courts here for the Olympics.

"It's been amazing feelings," said Nadal. "I could never have imagined as a kid that I would be here at 38 ... to all the people .. all the feelings that you have made me feel ... thank you from the bottom of my heart."

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