Rafael Nadal: Fourteen-time champion suffers first round defeat to Alexander Zverev at French Open | Tennis News

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 defeat

7 sets lost in final, 42 won

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.”

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.

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.

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.

A slow start cost Nadal a break in the opening game which he never retrieved, while Zverev was too strong in the tie-break and held his nerve down the final straight.

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.

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)
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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