Rafael Nadal advanced to his 14th French Open final after German Alexander Zverev rolled his ankle late in the second set and was forced to pull out of their semifinal on Friday.
Zverev and Nadal were already just over three hours into a tense match. Nadal won the first set 7-6 (8) and the second set also was headed to a tiebreaker. With Nadal serving at game point at 5-6 in the second, Zverev chased a Nadal shot, moving to his right, and slipped on the clay courts at Roland Garros in Paris. He immediately fell to the ground and could be heard crying in agony.
Zverev, the world’s No. 3-ranked player, was taken off the court on a wheelchair. After an examination in the locker room, he returned to the court, his right shoe off and on crutches. With tears in his eyes, he shook the hand of the chair umpire, embraced Nadal and saluted the crowd that had risen to its feel to give him a standing ovation.
Had Zverev, 25, gone on to win the French Open, he would have risen to No. 1 in the world. He is still seeking his first Grand Slam victory.
“Very sad for him, honestly,” Nadal, the fifth seed, said in an on-court interview. “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 that I’m sure is he’s gonna win not one — much more than one — so I wish him all the very best and very fast.”
Nadal will meet eighth-seeded Casper Ruud in the final after the Norwegian recorded a 3-6, 6-4, 6-2, 6-2 victory over 20th-seeded Marin Cilic of Croatia in the day’s other semifinal.
Nadal, who turned 36 on Friday, will be seeking his 14th French Open and 22nd overall Grand Slam title in Sunday’s final. He has never lost in a final in Paris.
Even though Nadal had the lead when Zverev retired on Friday, the match in some ways was far from vintage Nadal. Zverev already had broken Nadal’s serve five times — Nadal returned the favor with five breaks — and Nadal had 26 unforced errors to 21 winners.
But Nadal never lost his tenacity in the match.
Down 6-2 in the first-set tiebreaker, Nadal fought off four set points to come back to win the set. And in the second set, after Zverev broke his serve four times, Nadal broke Zverev’s serve as he tried to win the set, serving up 5-3.
“A super tough match. Three hours — over three hours — and we even didn’t finish the second set,” Nadal said. He called Zverev “one of the biggest challenges on the tour today when he’s playing at this super high level.”
Nadal said he joined Zverev in the locker room and had very mixed emotions.
“As everybody knows being in the final of Roland Garros one more time, it’s a dream without a doubt,” Nadal said. “But at the same time, (to) finish that way. … To see (Zverev) crying there, it’s a very tough moment. Just all the best to him.”
Reaching the final is also a big deal to Ruud, who is the first Norwegian to make a Grand Slam final.
He also is well aware it will be a challenge to slay Nadal on the clay at Roland Garros. Ruud is a product of Nadal’s academy in Mallorca, Spain and he still trains at the facility.
“It is amazing. He is the last player of the Big 3 and the very top players in the world I have never played against,” Ruud said after his victory. “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.”
Ruud, 23, had 16 aces among his 41 winners and committed just 21 unforced errors. He lost the first set before turning his game up a gear and won the next three straight sets.
“It was a great match from my side,” Ruud said. “I didn’t start the greatest, but Marin also played well in the first set. I was too defensive and then I was able to break him in the second set and that got me going again.
“From that break I played some of my best tennis this year. Serving well, playing aggressive, so I am super happy with my performance today.”
Cilic committed a whopping 56 unforced errors. He ripped off 10 aces among his 51 winners.
It was a big tournament for the 33-year-old Cilic, who became the fifth active player to reach the semifinals of all four Grand Slam events.
–Field Level Media