Nadal goes down fighting against Zverev in earliest French Open exit

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Nadal goes down fighting against Zverev in earliest French Open exit

Rafael Nadal lost in the first round of the French Open to Alexander Zverev 6-3 7-6 (7-5) 6-3 in what could be his last match at Roland Garros.

It is the first time in his long and illustrious career that Nadal has been beaten in two consecutive matches on clay courts and the first time he has lost a match earlier than the fourth round at the French Open.

The 14-time champion, known as the ‘King of Clay’, was roared on by family, friends and rivals at the scene of his greatest triumphs.

Having returned to the tournament he skipped in 2023 and refused 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 at Roland Garros

14 titles

112 victories

4 defeats

19 career Roland Garros appearances

96.5% wins

14 finals, 0 defeats

7 sets lost in final, 42 won

Three 30+ win streaks

31 (2005-09), 33 (2017-21), 39 (2010-15)

Back for the Olympics?

Spain's Rafael Nadal waves as he leaves the court after losing against Germany's Alexander Zverev during their first round match of the French Open tennis tournament at the Roland Garros stadium in Paris, Monday, May 27, 2024. (AP Photo/Jean-Francois Badias)

Image: Nadal waved goodbye on Court Philippe Chatrier following his first-round defeat but he could be back for the Paris Olympics

Nadal was persuaded afterwards by tournament director Amelie Mauresmo to say a few words to the crowd.

“I don’t know if it’s gonna be my last time here in front of you, not 100 per cent – but if it is I enjoyed it,” he said.

“The feelings that I have are difficult to describe, it’s so special to feel the love of the people in the place I love the most.

“I have been going through a very tough two years in terms of injuries and I went through a process with the dream of being back at Roland Garros.

“The first round was not the dream one but I was competitive and had my chances. It’s difficult to say what’s going on in the future, a big percentage that I won’t be back but I can say 100 per cent I am enjoying playing and having fun.

“Maybe in two months I’ll say it’s enough, but it’s something I don’t want yet and I want to be back on this court for the Olympics.

“I never could imagine when I was a kid that I would be here at almost 38 with all the success I had here. I really hope to see you again – but I don’t know.”

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

Nadal, the 22-time Grand Slam 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, has previously said this year could be his final one on the tour.

Stars in attendance

The seats behind the players’ boxes were crammed with current stars including Carlos Alcaraz – Nadal’s heir apparent – long-time rival Novak Djokovic and women’s No 1 and three-time champion Iga Swiatek.

Also in attendance were Nadal’s wife Xisca, who rarely watches his matches, baby son Rafael Jr and uncles Toni – his former coach – and Miguel Angel, the ex-Spain footballer.

Manchester City midfielder Rodri, no stranger to titles himself, was another famous face in the crowd.

How Nadal went down to defeat…

Germany's Alexander Zverev, left, kisses Spain's Rafael Nadal after winning the game during their first round match of the French Open tennis tournament at the Roland Garros stadium in Paris, Monday, May 27, 2024. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)

Image: Zverev consoles Nadal at the net after ending what could be the Spaniard’s final career appearance at Roland Garros

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.

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.

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Sky Sports Tennis caught up with football icon Luis Figo at the Madrid Open, who hailed Nadal’s career

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.

His celebrations were low key as Nadal sent a forehand wide on match point, before Chatrier rose, possibly for one last time, to salute their hero.

Nadal, who turns 38 on June 3, came into the French Open unseeded for the first time and saw his career record at the clay-court Grand Slam tournament fall to 112-4.

His three other losses came against Soderling in 2010 and twice against Djokovic in 2015 and 2021.

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“To be honest, I don’t know what to say. First of all: thank you, Rafa, from all of the tennis world,” Zverev said.

“It’s such a great honour. I’ve watched Rafa play all my childhood, and I was lucky enough to play Rafa when I became a professional. Today is not my moment. It’s Rafa’s moment.”

Norrie, Dart knocked out in first round

Britain's Cameron Norrie reacts during a match against Greece's Stefanos Tsitsipas at the Italian Open tennis tournament in Rome, Monday, May 13, 2024. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)

Image: Cameron Norrie slumped out of the French Open in the first round

British No 1 Cameron Norrie slumped out in the first round to Russian Pavel Kotov.

Norrie, stuck on a sparsely-populated outside court on a cold and breezy Paris afternoon in a match delayed by rain, lost in five tight sets 4-6 6-3 3-6 7-6 (7-5) 6-2.

The 28-year-old, seeded 32, won five games in a row after trailing 4-1 to take the first set.

Twice Norrie led by a set but twice world No 56 Kotov hit back, taking the match to a decider in a tie-break.

Kotov raced into a 4-0 lead and Norrie was unable to peg him back as he bowed out at the first-round stage for the first time since 2020.

“I’m pretty devastated with the result, the first four sets I was in control, I had so many chances,” said Norrie.

“I didn’t play well at all but I still should have won comfortably. I felt physically good, practice has been going well. I couldn’t believe I was in a fifth set.”

Harriet Dart was also sent packing as she lost 7-6 (7-3) 6-4 to Czech 27th seed Linda Noskova.

Dart said: “I felt I played an OK match to be honest, I always knew it would be a tough match. I’m just disappointed I didn’t capitalise on some of my opportunities.”

Defeats for Andy Murray and Jack Draper on Sunday mean Britain’s hopes in singles now rest with Katie Boulter and Dan Evans, who play their first-round matches on Tuesday.

Sinner eases past Eubanks to reach second round

Italy's Jannik Sinner clenches his fist after scoring a point against Christopher Eubanks of the U.S. during their first round match of the French Open tennis tournament at the Roland Garros stadium in Paris, Monday, May 27, 2024. (AP Photo/Aurelien Morissard)

Image: Jannik Sinner struck first in the battle to end the French Open as world number one

Italian world No 2 Jannik Sinner looked fully recovered from his injury problems as he saw off American Christopher Eubanks 6-3 6-3 6-4.

Sinner, the Australian Open champion, withdrew from the Madrid Open and missed Rome with a hip injury, but was back on form at Roland Garros as Eubanks exited at the first hurdle for the second successive year.

“The hip is good, I’m glad that my team and myself, we were working very hard to be on court as soon as possible,” Sinner said. “For sure, the general shape is not at 100 per cent yet, so we try to build every day.”

The Italian broke twice in the opening set to lead 4-1 before Eubanks broke back but Sinner saw out the set with another break, and needed just one break in each of the next two sets to take his place in the second round.

“Honestly, I’m just happy to be back on court, I was injured, so I’m very happy to be back here,” Sinner said.

“It’s a very special tournament for me, it was the first time in a quarter-final of a grand slam, so I have some great memories.”

Djokovic, who returned to the top of the rankings in September, now needs to at least reach the final to have any chance of staying there.

The 37-year-old Serb, who said he has “low expectations and high hopes” of defending his title in Paris, faces French wild card Pierre-Hugues Herbert in his first-round match on Tuesday.

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