Alcaraz edges out Sinner and Zverev beats Ruud to set up Roland Garros final

Estimated read time 4 min read

Carlos Alcaraz entered his first ATP challenger event in April 2019 aged just 15, still a long way from fulfilling his considerable talent. In the first round, Alcaraz, an unranked ­wildcard, was drawn against a 17-year-old named Jannik Sinner, ranked No 319. The pair battled across three intense sets before Alcaraz emerged with his first challenger win.

That fateful first meeting, played out to a tiny audience at ­Alcaraz’s academy in Villena, Spain, would mark the starting point of potentially the ­defining rivalry of the new generation. They met here as grand slam champions at a major tournament for the first time and, after a freezing cold start to a tension-filled contest, Alcaraz recovered from a set and a break down to reach his first Roland Garros final with a 2-6, 6-3, 3-6, 6-4, 6-3 win over Sinner, the second seed.

“Probably the toughest matches that I’ve played in my short career have been against Jannik,” said Alcaraz, seeded third in Paris. “The US Open in 2022, this one. That [shows] Jannik is a great player, the team he has as well, the great work that he puts in every day. I hope to play many more matches like this one against Jannik. It’s one of the toughest matches I have played for sure.”

This was the youngest grand slam semi-final since Andy Murray’s win over Rafael Nadal at the 2008 US Open, and with his victory Alcaraz is the youngest man in history to reach a grand slam final on all three surfaces. The 21-year-old is also the second-youngest player to reach the final in the 21st century; Nadal was younger on three occasions. He will seek a third major title on Sunday.

In the final, Alcaraz will face Alexander Zverev, the fourth seed, after he defeated Casper Ruud 2-6, 6-2, 6-4, 6-2 to reach his first Roland Garros final. This was already the 27-year-old’s fourth semi-final, including three in a row. Despite his quick start, Ruud looked increasingly uncomfortable throughout the match as he struggled with a stomach ache, and was handed pills by his trainer.

Alexander Zverev celebrates after beating Casper Ruud.View image in fullscreen

On the same day that Zverev progressed to a first French Open final, he reached a settlement with his former girlfriend, Brenda Patea, in an assault case which began last Friday in Berlin. The court heard last week that Zverev allegedly pushed and strangled Patea during an argument in Berlin in 2020. Zverev has always denied the allegations.

After the match, Zverev reacted to the news of his settlement: “I told you so from the start. I told everybody. I’m happy that it’s over. Yeah, nothing else more to say. That’s it. Four years. I’m happy about that.”

Earlier on Friday, things had looked particularly grim for Alcaraz at 2-6, 0-2. As Sinner returned with consistent depth, played with controlled aggression and particularly frustrated Alcaraz with his excellent defence, Alcaraz’s unforced errors piled up. He found a way back by drawing on the ­winning tactics of their ­previous match at Indian Wells, adding more height and spin to his rally ball, mixing up the pace and trajectory of his shots to deprive ­Sinner of pace and rhythm. As Alcaraz levelled the match at one set all, this time Sinner was flailing.

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Carlos Alcaraz shows respect for the defeated Jannik Sinner after winning their French Open semi-finalView image in fullscreen

Both players were clearly ­struggling with nerves, and like Alcaraz a year ago in his semi-final defeat by Novak ­Djokovic, they ­both began to ­suffer with cramps. ­Sinner received ­treatment on his right hand and later his legs during the ­changeovers. With no option but to shorten points, Sinner forced himself on to the front foot. Just as it seemed that Alcaraz had taken ­control of the match, it was Sinner who took the decisive break before leading two sets to one.

Only in the fourth set did the quality and intensity rise. Each service hold seemed to give each player the confidence to strike the ball more freely as they both covered every inch of the vast court. At 5-4 on Sinner’s serve, Alcaraz pounced and closed out a chaotic game by firing a cross-court backhand winner at the first opportunity.

With momentum behind him, Alcaraz snatched a break at the start of the fifth set and although Sinner applied pressure right until the end, the Spaniard held firm in a final nerve-racking game to advance.

“You have to enjoy suffering,” he said. “I think that’s the key. Even more here in clay, long ­rallies, four-hour matches, five sets. You have to suffer. But as I said to my team, you have to enjoy suffering.”


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