Rafael Nadal is now the second-oldest men’s finalist in French Open history, after his opponent Zverev stopped playing because of an injured right leg. He will try to be the oldest champion at a tournament he has already won a record 13 times.
Playing on his 36th birthday at an event he first won at 19, Nadal emerged to claim a tight-as-can-be, draining first set that lasted 1½ hours by a 7-6 (8) score. The second set also was headed to a tiebreaker after another 1½ hours when Zverev tumbled behind the baseline while chasing a ball to his right.
Zverev was wearing a dark gray outfit when he got covered in blue clay. As soon as it happened, he grabbed his ankle and screamed in pain. Nadal attended to Zverev as a trainer came out to him too.
Zverev then was escorted off the court in a wheelchair. Several minutes later, he returned and said he was retiring from the match. He shook the umpire’s hand and hugged Nadal.
“I was very sad for him,” Nadal said. “He was playing an incredible tournament. He’s a great player on the tour. I know how much he wanted to win a Grand Slam; and for the moment, he was unlucky. He will definitely win more than one Grand Slam, and I wish him the best of luck.”
“It was very difficult to play against Zverev when he is in such good form. He’s one of the top 5 players in the world. It is nearly impossible to say anything during those moments. It was a dream for me to make it to the final of Roland Garros, but at the same time it is tough to finish this way. I can only wish him all the best.”
Even though Nadal says that he has been dealing with chronic pain in his left foot, he still manages to play against 25-year-old Zverev and have no signs of age, injury or fatigue.
The match was played indoors at Court Philippe Chatrier with the retractable roof installed in 2020 closed because of rainy weather.
Nadal added a 14th trophy from the French Open to increase his Grand Slam tally, which already reached 22 after he won the Australian Open in January.
Roger Federer and Djokovic are tied at 20.
Nadal took the first two legs of the calendar-year Grand Slam, but he has lost in the third. In Sunday’s final against No. 8 Casper Ruud of Norway or No. 20 Marin Cilic of Croatia, it would be the first time that Nadal has won the first two legs of the calendar-year Grand Slam.
Cilic has never reached the final of a major tournament; Ruud has won the US Open. Zverev used his power and speed throughout the match to stake himself to a 3-1 lead after 19 minutes in large part because he accumulated seven winners before Nadal delivered a single one.
Zverev won nearly twice as many matches as Nadal, 40-21.
When Zverev tried a drop shot in the eighth game of the match, it was unsuccessful. Then Nadal was able to reach the drop shot and ripped a backhand pass winner. Zverev set up a break point for Nadal on a double-fault by messing up a few points later.
Zverev slammed his racket to the ground and it flew out of his hand after one wild swing. He tried to get it back but lost concentration and hit a ball that flew past the chair umpire and landed 10 feet away from the court. Afterwards, an errant backhand allowed Nadal to break and he made it 4-all for the Spaniard.
In the first tiebreaker, Alexander Zverev began brilliantly and took a 6-2 lead to earn four set points. But then Rafael Nadal did what he does so often to so many opponents — just by hanging in there.
Nadal saved Zverev’s fourth set point by winning a short, leading forehand pass that the German could not reach. He then celebrated by holding his hand to his face, a moment later turning to survey the stands and raising his fist in triumph.
The only older men’s finalist in Paris was two male champion who reached their respective age of 37: Bill Tilden, the runner-up at age 37 in 1930 and Andres Gimeno, who was 34 in 1972.
Nadal has said over recent days that it’s possible for each match to be his last at the French Open. The primary reason is because of his left foot.
“Why I make all the sacrifices, and go through all the hard things to keep playing,” Nadal said, “really makes sense when you enjoy moments like I’m enjoying at this tournament.”
ESPN and The Associated Press released information that was used in this report.