Rafael Nadal and Alexander Zverev were on the course toward one of the most thrilling Roland Garros matches this June. Nadal led 7-6, 6-6 after over three hours when Zverev hurt his right ankle and retired in tears. The German is yet to return to the court, and he hopes to play again in September if he fails to recover in time for the US Open.
Last year, Zverev and Nadal met twice on clay within two weeks. The German beat the Spaniard in Madrid, while Nadal served revenge at Foro Italico in Rome. Rafa had beaten Alexander thrice on clay ahead of 2021 and could not remain perfect against the German on his favorite surface following a 6-4, 6-4 loss in the Madrid Open quarter-final.
It was Zverev's third straight win over Nadal, describing it as one of the most significant ones of his career. Rafa played well against Carlos Alcaraz and Alexei Popyrin but could not do much against the fellow top-10 rival.
He played passive tennis and struggled on serve and return to hit the exit door. The crowd's favorite stayed under ten winners, while Zverev took charge and hit 28 winners and 25 unforced errors that pushed him through.
The German had a massive advantage in the shortest and mid-range rallies. He was closing the exchanges mainly before the ninth stroke, taking the rhythm away from Nadal to advance into the tenth Masters 1000 semi-final. Rafa opened a 4-2 advantage before shutting down his engines and struggling to follow the rival's pace.
Zverev created six break chances and converted three, dropping serve once in the early stages and never looking back behind the initial shot. They kicked off the encounter with five comfortable holds before Nadal scored a break at love at 3-2 following Zverev's double fault.
Alexander Zverev described his victory over Rafael Nadal as one of his career-best.
Alexander broke back in the next game after forcing Rafa's error at the net and saved a break point in game eight to level the score at 4-4.
The German grabbed the second straight return game and wrapped up the opener with an ace for 6-4 and a massive boost. Nadal got broken at 2-2 in set number two following Zverev's forehand down the line winner and faced two more break chances that could have sent his rival 5-2 in front.
The Spaniard saved them to bring the game home but could not do anything on the return. Alexander held at 15 in game ten to seal the deal and earn his first victory over Rafa on the slowest surface. "It is one of my career's biggest wins, especially on clay against Rafa.
It is the toughest thing to do in our sport; beating him in his house in Spain is incredible," Alexander Zverev said.