Nadal out of possible last French Open, Swiatek through – Sport

PARIS: Rafael Nadal’s illustrious French Open career came to a likely end with his first ever defeat in the opening round by Alexander Zverev on Monday, after Iga Swiatek made a winning start in her bid for a fourth title.

Nadal matched world number four Zverev for long periods on a packed Court Philippe Chatrier, but slipped to a 6-3, 7-6 (7/5), 6-3 loss as he was beaten for just the fourth time in 116 matches at the tournament.

This year’s event was expected to be the 14-time champion’s farewell to Roland Garros, but he had since insisted he could not confirm “100 percent” it would be his last appearance.

“If it is [the last time], then you have been amazing,” Nadal told an adoring crowd under the Chatrier roof. “The feelings I have today are difficult to describe in words. It is the place I love the most.”

Nadal, who turns 38 next week, showed all his trademark fighting qualities in a gripping match, but only managed to convert two of 11 break points against an inspired opponent.

“The first round wasn’t ideal,” he admitted, before saying he “hoped” to be back at Roland Garros later this summer for the Paris Olympics. “It’s hard to say about the future. I am travelling with my family and I am having fun. The body is feeling better than it did two months ago.”

It was only Nadal’s fifth tournament since January 2023 after suffering a hip injury and then a muscle tear, arriving in Paris a lowly 275th in the world rankings.

That left him unseeded for the draw and vulnerable to a difficult opening round.

German Zverev, who lifted the Rome Open title last month, proved too strong despite the fans desperately attempting to raise Nadal to past glories.

The 27-year-old banished the memories of the duo’s last meeting, when he left Chatrier court on a wheelchair after injuring his ankle during their 2022 French Open semi-final.

His reward for becoming just the third player to defeat Nadal at Roland Garros — after Novak Djokovic and Robin Soderling — is a match against either David Goffin or home wildcard Giovanni Mpetshi Perricard.

Zverev started the match strongly with a break to love in the opening game, going on to wrap up the first set with relative ease.

Nadal was much improved from his most recent outing, when he was well beaten by Hubert Hurkacz in the Rome second round, but failed to serve out the second set when leading 5-4.

Zverev then came out on top in a tense tie-break as a Nadal return found the net.

The Spaniard again broke first in the third set to lead 2-0, much to the delight of the 15,000 spectators in attendance, including Djokovic, Carlos Alcaraz, Swiatek and Manchester City footballer Rodri.

But Zverev quickly hit back once more, before breaking for a 4-3 lead with a wonderful passing winner.

He secured victory on his first match point as Nadal blazed a forehand off target, potentially ending the most dominant career at a single event in Grand Slam history.

Women’s world number one Swiatek raced to a 6-1, 6-2 victory against French qualifier Leolia Jeanjean after just 61 minutes on Court Philippe Chatrier.

The Pole will next face fellow four-time major champion Naomi Osaka on Wednesday. The 22-year-old Pole is aiming to become the first woman to win three straight Roland Garros titles since Justine Henin in 2007, and only the second ever after Serena Williams to win the Madrid, Rome and French Opens in the same year.

Australian Open champion Jannik Sinner started his title tilt with a confident 6-3, 6-3, 6-4 win over Wimbledon quarter-finalist Christopher Eubanks.

The Italian second seed, who withdrew from the Madrid Open and missed the Rome Open with a hip injury, set up a second-round meeting with French veteran Richard Gasquet.

Former finalist Stefanos Tsitsipas beat Mar­ton Fucsovics of Hungary 7-6 (9/7), 6-4, 6-1.

Women’s third seed Coco Gauff, the current US Open title-holder and who lost the 2022 French Open final to Swiatek, raced through in just 52 minutes by crushing Russian Julia Avdeeva 6-1, 6-1. The 20-year-old goes on to face Slovenian qualifier Tamara Zidansek for a place in the last 32.

Marketa Vondrousova, also a former Roland Garros runner-up and the reigning Wimbledon champion, eased past Rebeka Masarova of Spain in straight sets.

Tunisian eighth seed Ons Jabeur booked her place in round two with a comfortable win over US wildcard Sachia Vickery.

Published in Dawn, May 28th, 2024

Leave a Comment