Rafael Nadal: 'Alexander Zverev pushed me to the limits'
by JOVICA ILIC | VIEW 4398
Rafael Nadal defeated Novak Djokovic to reach the Roland Garros semi-final. Rafa faced Alexander Zverev in a battle for the final and experienced one of the toughest challenges ever in Paris! They were neck and neck for three hours and three minutes before Alexander experienced a terrible right ankle injury on slow and muddy clay.
The German left the court in the wheelchair and returned on the crunches a few minutes later to announce his retirement. It could have been one of the most entertaining matches in Roland Garros history, with Nadal leading 7-6, 6-6 before Zverev got injured.
It was one of the most challenging matches for Rafa in Paris, and he had to work hard to achieve a positive score at the three-hour mark. A 13-time winner survived four set points in the opener and came from 5-3 down in the second set to force another tie break before Alexander finished the match in the worst way.
It was an incredible battle under a roof on Court Philippe-Chatrier, as they both tried to impose their shots and raise the level in challenging conditions. Two sets delivered almost 200 points, and Rafa took only four more than Alexander.
The Spaniard had the edge in the shortest range up to four strokes, and the German erased that deficit in the mid-range and most advanced rallies. Both players claimed five breaks and grabbed almost half of the return points on a slow court.
Zverev was a more aggressive player, giving his 120% to stay in touch with a 21-time Major winner and forge the advantage in both sets. Alexander grabbed a break in the encounter's opening game after Rafa's backhand error. Zverev served well in the opening three service games to open a 4-2 gap and settle into a fine rhythm.
The German barely missed the first serve up to that point and looked good to build the advantage. Things changed in the eighth game when he made several errors to bring the Spaniard back to the positive side. Rafa took charge and created three set points on the return in game ten.
Alexander Zverev experienced a terrible injury against Rafael Nadal in Paris.
Zverev survived them and held after numerous deuces for 5-5 after 58 minutes! Nadal saved two break points in the 11th game, surviving but struggling in the tie break.
Alexander forced Rafa's errors in the seventh and eighth points to open a 6-2 gap and earn four set points. Suddenly, the Spaniard delivered his A-game to rattle off five straight points and extend the battle. Zverev fended off two set points at 6-7 and 7-8 before Nadal cracked a forehand down the line winner in the 18th point to steal the opener after 91 minutes!
The second set kicked off with four consecutive breaks, and Nadal lost serve for the third time in a row to find himself 4-2 behind. The Spaniard got broken twice from 40-15 up and had to work hard to get back into contention.
Zverev hit a double fault in the seventh game to lose the advantage before stealing the rival's serve for the fourth consecutive time and opening a 5-3 gap. Despite an apparent struggle, Nadal was ready to fight until the end.
He pulled a break back at the last moment following Zverev's costly double fault. They both served well in the following three games to set another tie break. It never came, though, as Alexander twisted his right ankle in the 12th game's last point and retired a couple of minutes later.
"I left Rome limping. If the doctors had not found the solution to numb the nerve in my foot and remove the pain, I would not have had a chance at Roland Garros. My preparation was far from good, but the confidence was there after winning the Australian Open.
The semi-final against Alexander Zverev was very challenging; I have to admit that. Things were complicated, and anything could have happened had Alexander not twisted his ankle," Rafael Nadal said.