Nadal Reaches Roland Garros Final, Zverev Suffers Injury

Alexander Zverev and Rafael Nadal (photo: Jürgen Hasenkopf)

PARIS/WASHINGTON, June 3, 2022 (by Michael Dickens)

Rafael Nadal is 13-0 in French Open singles finals. On Sunday, the 36-year-old Spaniard will go for a record-extending 14th Roland Garros title in Paris. He’ll likely be the favorite to win. That’s the good news.

While the fifth-seeded Nadal advanced to his 14th Roland Garros final Friday afternoon with the roof closed on Court Philippe-Chatrier, it wasn’t the way he wanted to get there. The bad news is that Nadal’s opponent, No. 3 seed Alexander Zverev, who was down a set and about to start a second-set tie-break, rolled his ankle severely and was forced to retire after three hours and 13 minutes of grueling play that ended in heartbreak. The first set alone lasted 91 minutes.

Late in the second set, the 25-year-old World No. 3 from Germany ran to his right to chase after a Nadal forehand deep behind the baseline. He badly turned his right ankle. Immediately, he cried out in anguishing pain, then writhed visibly on the red clay while holding his ankle with both hands. Nadal walked across the net to offer his support and to help Zverev into a wheelchair.

One of the matches of the season – and three days after Nadal eliminated World No. 1 and top seed Novak Djokovic in an epic four-set quarterfinal that lasted four-plus hours – came to an abrupt ending at 7-6 (8), 6-6 in favor of Nadal.

Zverev left the court in a wheelchair. When he returned several minutes later, hobbling on crutches, it was to shake the umpire’s hand, share a hug with Nadal who accompanied him back on the court, and receive a standing ovation from the Stade Roland Garros crowd that had braved the Paris rain to witness the first men’s semifinal.

Understandably, the circumstances which have placed Nadal just one win away from capturing a record-extending 22nd Grand Slam trophy left him feeling bittersweet. “Very tough and very sad for him,” he said during an awkward on-court interview with Eurosport‘s Mats Wilander after the match. “Honestly, he was playing an unbelievable tournament. He’s a very good colleague on the Tour. I know how much he’s fighting to win a Grand Slam, but for the moment he was very unlucky.

“The only thing I’m sure is that he is going to win not one – more than one. I wish him all the bet and very fast recovery.”

Zverev held four set points during the dramatic opening set tie-break before Nadal rallied to pull it out through a display of brilliant offense and defensive skills. The 25-year-old was in pursuit of a first major title, which would have lifted him to No. 1 following the earlier tournament losses by Djokovic and No. 2 Daniil Medvedev.

It has been a super tough match, over three hours and we didn’t even finish the second set,” Nadal reflected. “It’s one of the biggest challenges on the Tour today when he’s playing at this super-high level, to play against him.

“Difficult to say a lot of things today, the situation. Of course, for me, as everyone knows, to be in the final of Roland Garros for another time is a dream, without a doubt.

“But at the same time, to finish that way. … I have been there in the small room with Sasha before we came back on court, and to see him crying there is a very tough moment, so all the best to him.”

Ruud: Becomes first Norwegian man to reach Grand Slam final

On Sunday, Nadal will face No. 8 seed Casper Ruud of Norway, who defeated No. 20 seed Marin Cilic of Croatia, 3-6, 6-4, 6-2, 6-2, Friday night in the second semifinal match, which took two hours and 55 minutes to complete. Ruud, the winner of seven ATP Tour titles on clay, will face Nadal for the first time.

The World No. 8 Ruud, who is projected to rise to No. 6 in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings next week, became the first Norwegian man to reach a Grand Slam final. He did so with big hitting against Cilic. Ruud finished with 16 aces, hit 41 winners to 21 unforced errors and broke his opponent five times in 15 opportunities.

“It is amazing. … He is the last player of the Big Three and the very top players in the world I have never played against,” Ruud said during his on-court interview with Eurosport’s Fabrice Santoro in describing Nadal. “So I guess this is perfect timing and worth the wait. To finally play him in a Grand Slam final will be a special moment for me. Hopefully a little bit for him as well.

“He has played so many finals, but at least he is playing a student from his academy this time. So it is going to be a fun one hopefully.”

The World No. 23 Cilic was looking to advance to his fourth major final and become just the fifth active man to reach the title match of all four Grand Slams. He would have been the lowest-ranked semifinalist to reach the Roland Garros final since No. 25 Robin Soderling in 2009. Although Cilic recorded 10 aces and hit 51 winners, he also made 56 unforced errors.

Coco Double is on: Gauff and Pegula reach doubles final

Coco Gauff, who has already reached the French Open singles final, and Jessica Pegula, who was a singles quarterfinalist, have teamed to reach the doubles final. On Friday, the No. 8 seeds Gauff (ranked 10th) and Pegula (ranked 31st) defeated Madison Keys and Taylor Townsend, 6-4, 7-6 (4), in an all-American semifinal. It happened less than 24 hours after Gauff defeated Martina Trevisan to become the youngest major finalist since Maria Sharapova at Wimbledon in 2004 at age 17.

Gauff and Pegula will play French wild cards Kristina Mladenovic and Caroline Garcia, the 2016 Roland Garros champions, who took down No. 14 seeds Jelena Ostapenko of Latvia and Lyudmyla Kichenok of Ukraine, 2-6, 6-4, 6-2 in a match interrupted by rain.

This is the second straight year a player has reached both the women’s singles and doubles final. Last year, Barbora Krejcikova pulled off the double by winning both singles and doubles crowns.

“It feels awesome. We’re super pumped that Coco is in both finals,” said Pegula, a singles quarterfinalist who lost to No. 1 seed Iga Swiatek. “It’s pretty amazing and not easy to do.

“I’m glad we were able to step up the last couple weeks, played really solid, played some tough teams – especially today – so we’re very happy we’re through.”

It will be the second Grand Slam doubles final for Gauff, who was a finalist at last year’s US Open, teamed with Caty McNally.

Around Roland-Garros

Friday’s French Open results

Saturday’s French Open order of play

By the numbers

Rafael Nadal turned 36 on Friday at Roland Garros. He was feted with a birthday cake. The 13-time champion has a 7-1 win-loss record on his on his birthday. He is the second-oldest man to reach the French Open singles final since 1925. If he wins his 14th Roland Garros title on Sunday, he would surpass countryman Andres Gimeno as the oldest French Open men’s champion.

“Quotable …”

“He was playing an unbelievable tournament. I know how much he’s fighting to win a Grand Slam but for the moment he was really unlucky. The only thing is that I am sure that he’s going to win, not one, but many in the future.”

Rafael Nadal, commenting during his on-court interview after his win by retirement over Alexander Zverev Friday.