French Open: Nadal loses to Zverev in probable last match at tournament – day two as it happened

Estimated read time 14 min read

Otherwise, join me again at 10am BST tomorrow!

Reflecting on what Nadal says, my guess is he’d pretty much planned to can it, but played really well against one of the best players in the world, in the process showing himself he can still do it. He’d have beaten almost anyone else on today’s form, and a kinder draw might’ve allowed him to ease into the second week; I’m not surprised he’s saying nothing definitive given that, as you’re a long time retired. But in the meantime, au revoir to a one of a kind. It’s a privilege to be living in his time.

Righto, that’s us done for the day, so to update: Pliskova leads Svitolina 6-3 1-3; Kalinskaya leads Burel 7-6 4-5; Collins beats Dolehide 6-3 6-4; Bellucci leads Tiafoe 3-2 with a break; Cerundolo leads Hanfmann 6-3 1-0; Tomova beats Alexandrova 6-3 7-6; Pavlyuchenkova beats Udwardy 6-3 6-4; and Norrie leads Kotov 6-4 3-6 6-3 1-2.

Nadal says it’s difficult for him to talk as he doesn’t know if this is going to be the last time he plays in front of this incredible crowd – he’s not 100% sure but if this is the last time he’s enjoyed it. The crowd have been amazing throughout the week of preparation and feelings he has today are hard to describe but it’s so special to feel the love of the people in the place he loves most.

Otherwise, he congratulates Zverev for a great match and winning in Rome last week, wishing him the best for the tournament; he knows 2022 was super-tough. He’s had a tough time with injuries recently, going through the processes to get back to Roland-Garros and he was competitive but didn’t take his chances so lost to a great player. He thinks there’s a “big percentage” chance he doesn’t come back, but he’s travelling with the family and having fun; maybe in two months he says it’s enough, but he doesn’t feel that yet, hopes to back on Chatrier for the Olympics, which motivates him, and he hopes to be well prepared. The feelings he’s had on this court, he could never imagine he’d still be here at 28 – he corrects to 38 but wishes he was right first time – and it’s been a “beautiful process”.

He thanks all the people who’ve helped behind the scenes, his team and who work at Roland-Garros, and the crowd: “The feelings you make me feel here are just unforgettable,” he says, choking up. “Thank you so much from the bottom of my heart; I hope to see you again but i don’t know.”

What a player and what a mensch; I fear my eyeballs may be sweating.

Zverev doesn’t know what to say, thanking Nadal on behalf of the tennis world. It’s such a great honour having watched him play all his childhood, was lucky enough to play him when he turned pro and has played him twice on Chatrier. This isn’t his day, it’s Rafa’s moment, so he won’t say much, stepping aside to allow the King to address his court.

Zverev moves on to meet Goffin or Mpetshi Perricard and played well today – he looks a contender. But this is all about Rafael Nadal, the greatest clay-courter tennis has ever seen, perhaps the greatest competitor sport has ever seen, and he looks choked; I’m not surprised, I do too because how not to?

Forehand winner cross-court – as Norrie breaks to go 2-1 up on Kotov – and Nadal is down two match point. The crowd go wild for him but there’s no level of appreciation that can possibly match the work he’s done over the last 19 years.

Ach, hold yourselves mates: Zverev punishes a backhand winner, then Nadal, forced to go for lines, hits long and he’s two points away from defeat, maybe two points away form the end of the greatest career at any one major we’ve ever seen. What a ride it’s been, the skill-level matched only by the physical and mental sacrifices; we’ll never see anything like again, but goodness me, we’ve seen him, and how lucky we are for that.

An overhead, under which he’s to wait for several decades, is spanked down, and Nadal has 15-30, then a double follows! Nadal just won’t go away, but then he overhits a backhand when in control of the rally and he just can’t quite string together enough consecutive good points or games to make this close. And from deuce, Zverev very quickly seals his consolidation, sweeping another – yet another – nails backhand cross to take him a game away at 2-0 5-3.

Ah, but Pliskova has since broken Svito afresh, so is now serving for the set at 5-3 while, on 13, Norrie leads Kotov 4-3 in the third, on serve.

Svitolina has broken Pliskova back, but back to our main match, down 0-30, Nadal tries another drop – he must be flagging, which makes sense – Zverev duly assumes control of the rally, except after an overhead, he watches as a murderous forehand hisses by him! For all the difference it makes: we wind up at 30-40, Nadal finds another decent delivery … and from waaaay out wide, a majestic backhand down the line secures the break! At 6-3 7-6 4-3, Zverev is two games away!

On Lenglen, Svitolina leads Pliskova 4-2; Norrie and Kotov are 1-1 3-3; Kalinskaya leads Burel 7-6 2-0; and Khachanov is serving for the match up 6-2 6-0 5-4 on Nagal.

Huge hitting from Zverev hauls Nadal to deuce from 40-30 then, down break-point, Nadal glances a lovely backhand volley across the face of the net to save himself. Not for long though, another break point inciting our favourite: the ace down the T. Two in the match, both times with when it was needed most, and when Zverev earns another opportunity, a serve out wide facilitates the backhand-glance putaway; four saved. And from there, another nasty rally ends with Nadal the man still standing; even if he loses, this is yet nother monumental error from the 14-time champ. He trails 3-6 6-7 3-2.

Zverev secures his hold for 2-0 2-2, Norrie breaks back to love immediately for 1-1 1-1, and Svitolina and Pliskova begin their match by exchanging breaks.

Nadal raises another break point, likewise Kotov; Zverev saves his with big serve and forehand combo which takes us to deuce but Norrie cannot and now trails 6-4 3-6 0-1.

Kotov does indeed serve out, tying his match with Norrie at 4-6 6-3. He was put under a lot of pressure earlier in that set, but he kept holding then found the break he needed.

Nadal just can’t quite find enough, finding himself down 30-40 before hoisting a lob at the end of a sapping rally; Zverev leaps and frames down a winner to break back for 2-0 1-2.

Elsewhere, Khachanov leads Nagal 6-2 6-0 2-1, Fernandez beat Ponchet 6-2 3-0, Collins leads Dolehide 6-3 3-2, Pavlyuchenkova leads Udvardy 6-3 3-1 and Tomova leads Alexandrove 6-3 6-6. Oh and Kotov is serving for the second set against Norrie at 4-6 5-3.

Now then. Nadal makes 0-30, then a ninja forehand sets up a backhand winner and really, who knows? Two weapons-grade first serves extinguish the first two breaking opportunities, but with the next point as good as won, Zverev picks the forehand corner, so does Nadal, and he crunches a winner into the empty court! He trails 3-6 6-7 2-0 and might that be a turning point? Either way, though, what a privilege to be breathing air at the same time as this nutter.

Next on Lenglen: Elina Svitolina (15) v Karolina Pliskova.

As soon as set three starts, Nadal finds himself down 15-40, but he stays in a long rally then sends a backhand followed by a forehand to the corner to save one break point, the second erased when Zverev nets. And from there, the freak of nature serves out, closing the game with another definitive volley; he trails 3-6 6-7 1-0.

Gauff is happy with how she played and enjoyed it with the roof closed; the echo made it sound like the ball was travelling faster than it is. She also heard that it was modelled on Suzanne Lenglen’s skirt, which she thinks is a great detail, then discusses practising her drop-shots with Brad Gilbert and Jeremy Chardy. Paris is her favourite city and the first place to which she travelled as a kid, so she enjoys people watching and reading – she’s a huge reader and rhe weather is nice to just sit and do that.

Avdeeva is only 21 and looks a decent prospect, but Gauff knew way too much for her and meets Zidansek next; that should be a much tougher and funner match.

Nadal being Nadal, he saves the first set point with a drop, but a netted return and Zverev, who played a great game when his opponent served for 1-1 and has played an equally excellent breaker, leads by two sets to love, 6-3 7-6(5).

A deft forehand volley at the net gives Zverev – no that is not a misprint – 4-3, and an ill-advised drop allows the putaway for 5-3. I guess he was trying to shorten the rally, which he did, but not in the way he planned, but what a forehand he finds, whipped cross as Zverev comes in, just as the breaker looks to have slipped away. But oh Rafa, again he tries a drop when he shouldn’t, again the German runs in to deal, and that rtaises two points for a two-set lead at 6-3 6-6 (6-4).

Zverev quickly returns it and then, at 3-2, we see Carlos Alcaraz and Iga Swiatek are also in the house and rightly so; what better can they or anyone else have to do than watch this? Exactly. It’s 3-3 while, on Lenglen, Gauff leads Avdeeva 6-1 4-1 with a double break and on 13 norrie leads Kotov 6-4 1-2.

Massive point to start, Zverev taking it on serve after a Nadal slice across the face of the net drops wide. And then, after more good net-play from Nadal, a forehand goes long to cede the mini-break at 1-2.

Broken to love in his last service game, this time Nadal holds to love, and we’ve got ourselves a breaker that might define this match: Zverev wins it’s a long way back, Nadal wins who knows?

There’s something comforting about sportsfolk loving sport, so it’s nice to see Djokovic wanting to check this match – and, I imagine, be there if this is the end of Rafa (while displaying his epochal magnanimity for the world to love). Back on court, though, Nadal burns two break points … but then a lovely backhand slice is too good, bringing us back to deuce. Not for long: Zverev closes out, and Nadal must now hold for a second-set breaker.

Goodness me, I’ve been watching tennis for more than 40 years and I’ve never seen an umpire bang heads with a player. But that’s what’s gone down on Lenglen, Avedeeva needing a moment to recover, down 6-1 1-0 with a break. And on 13, Norrie serves out to lead Kotov 6-4.

Big forehands from Zverev to make 0-15, then a barrage of backhands and it’s 0-30; this could be the match right here, Nadal in need of another energising ace. And have a look! Another tremendous point from the younger man, carving a forehand down the line to raise three break-back points … and he only needs one, again hammering with the forehand, and that’s an incredible game to save the second set.

Gauff takes the first set off Avdeeva 6-1, as Zverev holds to force Nadal to serve for one set apiece. And out on Court 13, Nozza has taken over, serving for the first set against Kotov at 5-4 having trailed 3-0.

Nadal is directing Zverev around the court now, dominating when he comes in – he’s 9-0 in net points now – and secures another hold for 3-6 5-3. We wondered if this was going to be a match but we didn’t really, because when has one featuring this freak of nature been anything but? I am in awe of his love and devotion.

Zverev holds to up the pressure on Nadal’s next service-game while Norrie breaks Kotov back to trail 3-4 and Gauff nails Avdeeva a second time, now 4-0 in front. These two experience temperatures in different ways.

Nadal dances along the baseline as he consolidates to 15 – he can feel it building now, and it all started with that ace at break-point down; his competitive spirit is absolutely mind-boggling, just as much as his skill and Zverev, now in fear of a match he’s dominated going all square, looks a little forlorn at 6-3 2-4.

Over the last year or so, Coco Gauff has morphed from player into killer, and she lays down the smack immediately, breaking Avdeeva for 2-0

Kotov breaks Norrie then consolidates for 4-1 – this match might go long, I reckon – and Nadal gets 30-all on the Zverev serve then sees a forehand go into the bottom of the net. He looks to be buzzing off what was a great hold in the last game, and when a ball drops in half-court, he clobbers a forehand but it’s not a winner; no matter. Zverev does similarly, this time he conjures a drop, and Nadal has broken for 3-6 3-2! What a totally absurd human being he truly is.

That’s a great win for one of the heroes of the last 12 months – he made the last four in New York and the last eight in Melbourne – and next for him it’s Kei Nishikori.

Can Nadal find a way of breaking Zverev? Well he needs to hold his own serve first and Zverev is giving nowt for a burton – it’s constant pressure, the ace down the T at 30-40 exactly what was required. Another big serve follows, and then one out wide to facilitate the clean-up forehand to the opposite corner. Much better from Nadal, who now trails 6-3 2-2.

Zverev makes it 18 from 19 points on serve in going up 30-0, and though Nadal closes, an ace down the T followed by a thunderous forehand down the line from wide gives him a 6-3 2-1 lead. Back on Court 14 – we’ve been there a fair bit – Ben Shelton has match point at 3-6 6-3 6-4 5-4 15-40 against Hugo Gaston … and, to the joy of the home crowd, Gaston saves both.

He meets Purcell or Squire next.

Karen Khachanov, the 18 seed, is under way against Samit Nagal, leading 3-1.

Kotov takes the first game off Norrie and Zverev again holds to lead Nadal 6-3 1-0.

Court 13 will soon be watching Cam Norrie, who meets Pavel Kotov.

Nadal nets a forehand and at the end of the longest game of the match, Zverev takes a 50-minute first set 6-3.

Next on Lenglen: Coco Gauff (3) v Julia Avdeeva (Q).

Great news: we’re back away on the outside courts…

Tistsipas says he was a bit lucky to take the first set but after that he played a lot better, hitting it harder and deeper, and by the end he was playing great. The roof, he explains, makes the court faster with more bounce, and though he was sitting further back on return, he was trying to send back fast, low balls to get himself into and open up the court. Finally, he shares how much everyone in Paris loves him and how good that makes him feel, inspiring him to play great tennis for the people in the city of love.

Nadal, meanwhile, is struggling to hold and finds himself down advantage and set point; he tackles it by hitting flatter and harder, a booming backhand to the corner directed into the net by Zverev. So we go from deuce to advantage and back again…

That’s a really good win and performance from Tsitsipas – next up it’s Daniel Altmaier, who binned Jannik Sinner here last term.


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