Carlos Alcaraz outlasts Alex Zverev in five-set thriller to win French Open

Estimated read time 5 min read

Much of this year’s clay-court season had been a miserable experience for Carlos Alcaraz. He was sidelined from three of his four planned tournaments with a forearm injury and hampered in the one event he did play. His fitness struggles raised further questions about whether his body can withstand the pressure his all-action playing style imposes on it and he arrived at Roland Garros without much match practice or rhythm.

It takes a special talent to enter a major tournament with such difficult preparation yet still manage to compete with sufficient quality and conviction to keep on winning under pressure. This time, after five turbulent, tension-filled sets, the Spaniard emerged after four hours, 19 minutes with a 6-3, 2-6, 5-7, 6-1, 6-2 win over the fourth seed Alexander Zverev and his first French Open title.

By triumphing in Paris, Alcaraz has now mastered every surface at 21 years old, winning on the hard courts of the US Open in 2022, the lawns of Wimbledon in 2023 and now on the red clay here. He is the youngest man in history to win a major on all surfaces, a record previously held by Rafael Nadal at 22 and a feat that has only been achieved by seven players. Now a three-time grand slam champion, he moves level with Arthur Ashe, Andy Murray, Stan Wawrinka and Gustavo Kuerten.

This tournament will also be remembered for Zverev being in the midst of a public trial in Berlin for allegedly physically assaulting his ex-girlfriend, Brenda Patea, who is the mother of their child, Mayla.

The trial opened in Berlin on 31 May, where the court was told that Zverev was accused of pushing and strangling Patea after an argument at a Berlin flat in May 2020. He denied the allegations.

A week later, before his semi-final against Casper Ruud, the lawyers of Zverev and Patea agreed to an out-of-court settlement. The court officially declared no verdict, with no ruling on the allegations and no admission of guilt from Zverev.

After a slow start from both players, Alcaraz, the third seed, took control. He dictated the vast majority of rallies with his forehand and he made use of his all-court game in the swirling wind by peppering Zverev with drop shots and closing down the net. Alcaraz’s level dropped at the beginning of the second set, though, and as he struggled to find his range, Zverev’s improved serving and consistency allowed him to level the set.

Alcaraz drops to the clay in joy and celebrationView image in fullscreen

Just as Alcaraz seemed to have found his rhythm again, striking the ball sweetly to build a 5-2 third-set lead, Alcaraz’s nerves took over and a composed Zverev rolled through five consecutive games to establish a two-sets-to-one lead.

To his immense credit, Alcaraz immediately shrugged off the third set, responding with an excellent return game to break serve at the start of set four. Having already requested pickle juice to address potential cramping, Alcaraz received a medical timeout at 4-1 in the set for his left leg. After the break, he continued to pound the ball from the baseline, maintaining his momentum to see out the set.

As they stepped up for the final set, tension radiated from both sides of the court. It was Zverev who first succumbed to the moment. While he handed over his service game at 1-1 with four pitiful errors, in the very next game Alcaraz plotted an incredible recovery from 0-40 down, closing out the hold with a spectacular backhand drop-shot winner.

Alcaraz’s miraculous hold for 3-1 included a controversial overrule from the umpire on break point, which the Hawk-Eye line-calling system, used only by television networks, ruled out. The shot, however, was well within Hawk-Eye’s margin of error, meaning it is unclear if the ball was actually out.

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With the momentum behind him, Alcaraz refused to let up as he closed out another spectacular triumph. The intention he played with after trailing by two sets to one underlined the difference between the Spaniard, with his two grand slam titles before this match, and Zverev who, at 27, has been chasing his first major win for over half a decade.

Zverev remonstrates with umpire Renaud LichtensteinView image in fullscreen

“I want to be one of the best tennis players in the world, so I have to give an extra in those moments in the fifth set, I have to show the opponent that I am fresh, I’m like we are playing the first game of the match,” said Alcaraz.

With a third major title in as many years, Alcaraz will leave Paris having further elevated his status in the sport. He continues to establish himself as a winner, no matter his struggles, injuries and sometimes his own turbulent form.

He has again proved that his generational talent is matched by a level of self-belief and big-match temperament that will carry him to even greater victories in the years to come.


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