Rafael Nadal and Alexander Zverev set Roland Garros R1 thriller!

Rafael Nadal and Alexander Zverev will battle at the start of the season's second Major

by Jovica Ilic
Rafael Nadal and Alexander Zverev set Roland Garros R1 thriller!
© Clive Brunskill / Staff - Getty Images Sport

Two years after their incredible semi-final, Rafael Nadal and Alexander Zverev will fight in the Roland Garros first round! The tennis gods decided to pair two great rivals at the beginning of the event, setting their second Court Philippe-Chatrier clash.

Nadal entered Roland Garros with a protected ranking after playing only six tournaments since the start of 2023, struggling with injuries and missing many tournaments. The king of clay is probably playing his last Roland Garros, hoping for a good run at his beloved event, where he has 112 wins from 115 encounters!

Still, the veteran will have to play well right from the start if he wants to embrace a deep run, facing world no. 4 and the recent Rome Masters champion already in the first match. Alexander will have an extra motive to oust Rafa in Paris.

Alexander Zverev & Rafael Nadal, Roland Garros 2022© Ryan Pierse / Staff - Getty Images Sport

He pushed the Spaniard to the limits like no one before in the opening two sets in the semi-final two years ago before suffering a nasty right ankle injury that ruined his progress and prevented him from likely becoming world no.

1. Nadal and Zverev battled for a place in the final under a closed roof on Court Philippe-Chatrier, with three hours on the clock before the end of the second set! Alexander injured his ankle in the final point of the 12th game on a slow and muddy clay, walking away from the court in a wheelchair and announcing his retirement while trailing 7-6, 6-6.

Zverev could not regain his old form for two years, and it all changed in Rome, where the German claimed his sixth Masters 1000 title. He is hungry for a Major success, and Roland Garros seems like a perfect ground for his breakthrough run, with no clear favorites.

Rafael Nadal & Alexander Zverev, Roland Garros 2022© Ryan Pierse / Staff - Getty Images Sport

Still, facing Nadal on Court Philippe-Chatrier is always dangerous, regardless of the veteran's form, and we should enjoy the first-round thriller in a couple of days.

Rafa has never lost in the opening round of Paris and will have to produce his A-game to avoid that this year. Two rivals threw everything at each other two years ago, forging one of the most thrilling encounters in the Roland Garros history before Zverev heartbreakingly ended his campaign.

The king of clay had to dig deep to keep an inspired rival behind, trailing in both sets and prevailing in the pivotal moments to avoid the deficit. Nadal fended off four set points in the opening set and came from 5-3 down in the second.

They could have battled for six hours, but the injury ruined a potentially historical duel. Rafa and Alexander tried to overcome the challenging conditions and produce their best tennis, embracing almost 200 points in those two sets!

Rafael Nadal, Roland Garros 2022© Clive Brunskill / Staff - Getty Images Sport

Rafael Nadal and Alexander Zverev will compete in Roland Garros R1!

The Spaniard took only four points more than the German before the injury, perfectly illustrating how hard they fought.

Nadal built the advantage in the quickest exchanges up to four strokes, and Zverev erased it in the mid-range and most advanced ones. We saw five breaks on each side, with two rivals taking almost half of the return points in slow conditions.

The German was a more aggressive player, taking charge in the rallies and making the king of clay run for his money. Nadal made a slow start and got broken in the first game of the encounter after a backhand error. Zverev produced three fine holds and forged a 4-2 advantage, serving well and looking determined to chase a career-best win at Majors.

Rafa stayed within one break deficit before pulling the break back in game eight after Alexander's mistakes. Nadal moved in front with a hold in game nine and pushed strong on the return at 5-4, creating three set points.

Alexander Zverev, Roland Garros 2022© Clive Brunskill / Staff - Getty Images Sport

Zverev denied them and closed the game after numerous deuces for 5-5 after 58 minutes!

Rafa denied two break points in the 11th game, and Alexander held in the next one for 6-6 and a tie break. The German outplayed the king of clay and forged a 6-2 advantage, with four set points up for grabs. With no room for errors, Rafa clinched five straight points, denying those set points and creating two set points at 7-6 and 8-7.

Zverev erased them and prolonged a marathon set before Nadal forced a forehand down the line winner at 9-8, wrapping up the opener after 91 minutes! The second set started with four straight breaks as the servers lost ground.

Rafael Nadal, Roland Garros 2022© Clive Brunskill / Staff - Getty Images Sport

Rafa suffered another break in game six, suffering two breaks from 40-15 and finding himself in a challenging condition. Still, Alexander hit a double fault in the seventh game, losing serve and bringing the legend back to the positive side.

Nadal got broken for the fourth straight time in the eighth game, falling 5-3 behind and pushing his rival closer to the set. Rafa struggled but fought hard, pulling the break back in the ninth game after Alexander's double fault and extending the set.

They served well in the remaining three games, arranging the second tie break. However, it never came, as Alexander twisted his right ankle in the last point of the 12th game, retiring in tears a few minutes later.

Rafael Nadal Alexander Zverev Roland Garros