Home Sport Rafa goes down fighting in possible French Open farewell

Rafa goes down fighting in possible French Open farewell

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Having returned to the tournament that he skipped last year and refusing to confirm any farewells ahead of his opener, Nadal showed flashes of top form again on Court Philippe Chatrier but the 37-year-old ultimately went down fighting.

Rafael Nadal of Spain leaves the court after losing his Men’s Singles 1st round match against Alexander Zverev of Germany during the French Open Grand Slam tennis tournament at Roland Garros in Paris, France, 27 May 2024. Picture: EPA, YOAN VALAT

Rafa Nadal crashed to his earliest exit at the French Open on Monday after a 6-3, 7-6 (7/5), 6-3 first-round defeat by fourth seed Alexander Zverev, with fans wondering if the 14-times champion will return to the Grand Slam he has ruled for two decades.

The 22-time Major champion, who won the Musketeers’ Cup for the first time in 2005 and last raised the trophy in 2022 before a serious hip injury derailed his career, had previously said this year could be his final one on the tour.

Having returned to the tournament that he skipped last year and refusing to confirm any farewells ahead of his opener, Nadal showed flashes of top form again on Court Philippe Chatrier but the 37-year-old ultimately went down fighting.

“I’m not 100% sure if it’s the last time but I enjoyed it, the crowd were amazing during the whole week of preparation and today,” Nadal said, as the crowd rose to their feet.

“The feelings are difficult to describe with words but it’s special to feel the love in the place I love the most. I enjoy playing a lot and travelling with the family. The body is feeling better than two months ago. Maybe in two months I say it’s enough. But it’s something I don’t feel yet.”

Victory meant Zverev became only the third man to beat Nadal at Roland Garros, after Novak Djokovic and Robin Soderling, with the German also banishing memories of his retirement due to an ankle injury when the duo last met in the 2022 semi-finals.

“I don’t know what to say … thank you Rafa from all of the tennis world, it’s such a great honour,” Zverev said of the soon to be 38-year-old.

“I’ve watched Rafa play all my childhood and I was lucky enough to play him twice on this beautiful court.”

Nadal was broken by in-form Rome champion Zverev in the opening game and surrendered his serve again late on to drop the first set in unfavourable conditions for him with the roof closed due to heavy rain earlier.

Faced with the prospect of only his fourth Roland Garros defeat in 116 matches, Nadal made a positive start to the next set as he leapt and pumped his fists after holding for 2-2 and broke for the first time with a delicate drop.

The crowd began to sense a comeback as Nadal went ahead 4-2 with some vintage shots on both flanks but the steely Zverev hit back in the 10th game and saved two break points before doubling his advantage by edging a high-octane tie-break.

Watched on by his great rival Djokovic and a host of other current players, Nadal surged to a 2-0 lead in the third set but squandered it as Zverev drew level and dealt another body blow in the seventh game.

The boisterous crowd tried their best to roar Nadal on but Zverev held his nerve to clinch a famous victory that could well prove to be the springboard he needs to push for an elusive first Grand Slam title.

Reuters

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