Nadal reaches French Open final after Zverev was forced out through injury

Rafael Nadal is a French Open finalist for the 14th time in his career as a thrilling, long and messy semi-final ended with Alexander Zverev forced into retirement in the second set. Zverev badly twisted his ankle while chasing a ball and was taken off the field in a wheelchair.

After competing for over three hours without completing the second set, Nadal won 7-6(8), 6-6 ret. to get to the final.

Nadal, who was celebrating his 36th birthday, will play for a record 14th French Open title and a 22nd major title, with his French Open win-loss record now 111-3 (97%). After his triumph at the Australian Open, he will try to win the first two majors of the year for the first time in his career.

“Very sad for him, honestly he was playing an amazing tournament,” Nadal said of Zverev, who reached the semi-finals for a second year in a row. “He is a very good colleague on the circuit. I know how hard he is fighting to win a Grand Slam but so far he has been unlucky. The only thing I know for sure is that he won’t win a single [but] many more than one. So I wish him all the best.

Nadal will face eighth-seeded Casper Ruud in the final after recovering from a set down to defeat Marin Cilic 3-6, 6-4, 6-2, 6-2 and reach his first Grand Slam final. . Ruud is the first Norwegian player to reach a major singles final.

As Ruud accelerated towards victory, the game was rhythmic for 10 minutes after a weather protester entered the pitch and stuck to the net. The protester, who walked onto the pitch and was able to tie herself to the net without even any security reacting, wore a shirt that read: ‘We have 1,028 days left’.

A protester ties to the net during the semi-final between Casper Ruud and Marin Cilic. Photography: Thibault Camus/AP

In the previous semi-final, as rain fell around Paris, the new roof of Roland Garros was used for the first game of any real importance this year. As Zverev entered the baseline and efficiently cut through the conditions, Nadal’s topspin was dulled in the humidity, the ball swelling. He called them some of the slowest conditions he has played in at Roland Garros. “I think the conditions weren’t ideal for me this afternoon,” Nadal said. “That’s why I couldn’t create the damage I wanted on him.”

It started with an almighty 92-minute opening set, in which Zverev came on fire. He served almost perfectly early on, crushing first serves, landing well over 80% and demolishing the ball from inside the baseline as the game unfolded on his racquet.

As the stakes rose, however, his familiar struggles with his second serve and forehand resurfaced. Zverev lost serve then saved three set points and rebounded to lead 6-2 in the tiebreak. Against almost anyone else, the set would have been over, but Nadal saved all four set points. After Zverev missed an easy volley at 6-3, Nadal landed a particularly outrageous angled forehand on the next point.

Even though Nadal continued to struggle with his game, he is supreme in tight moments and he got up to steal the set from Zverev with a thunderous forehand down the line. He called his incredible recovery a “miracle”.

Alexander Zverev shakes hands with referee after being forced to retire
Alexander Zverev shakes hands with the referee after being forced to retire. Photography: Yoan Valat/EPA

Nadal broke serve in the first game of the second set. But instead of splitting, he launched a series of disastrous service games and a messy set followed. Nadal struggled from the baseline, relying heavily on drop shots instead of any weight on his groundstrokes, and Zverev double-faulted on break points, including three double-faults as he served for the set at 5-3. In total, eight of the first nine games of the second set were service breaks.

As the pair headed for a tiebreaker, Nadal attacked to the point of play on his serve and Zverev badly twisted his right ankle while chasing a forehand. He immediately began screaming in pain and was quickly escorted off the pitch in a wheelchair, a rare sequence that underscored the severity of his injury. After a short time, during which Nadal also walked off the pitch, Zverev returned to the pitch on crutches and waved to the crowd, earning him a standing ovation as his withdrawal from the match was confirmed.

Nadal then said that when he went to see Zverev in the locker room, he immediately underwent an ultrasound to check his ankle.

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    “It was a super tough match, over three hours and we didn’t even finish the second set,” Nadal said. “So that’s one of the biggest challenges on the tour today when playing at this very high level.

    “Difficult to say many things today in this situation. Of course, as everyone knows, to be in the Roland Garros final once again is a dream, no doubt. But at the same time, to end like this… I was there in the small room with Sascha [Zverev] before returning to the court. Seeing him cry there is a very difficult moment, so I wish him the best.

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