Rafael Nadal reaches French Open final after Alexander Zverev retires with ankle injury


PARIS — Rafael Nadal has become the second-oldest men’s finalist in French Open history after his semifinal opponent, Alexander Zverev, stopped playing Friday because of an injured right leg. Now Nadal will try to become the oldest champion at a tournament he has already won a record 13 times.

Playing on his 36th birthday at an event he first won at 19, Nadal emerged to claim a tight-as-can-be, draining first set that lasted 1½ hours by a 7-6 (8) score. The second set also was headed to a tiebreaker after another 1½ hours when Zverev tumbled behind the baseline while chasing a ball to his right.

Zverev’s black outfit was covered in rust-colored clay, as were his legs and arms, and he immediately grabbed his right ankle, screaming in pain.

A trainer came out to attend to him, and Nadal walked around the net to check on Zverev, too.

Zverev then was taken off the court in a wheelchair. Several minutes later, he came back out using crutches and said he needed to retire from the match. He shook the chair umpire’s hand and then hugged Nadal.

“Well, it was very tough and very sad for him,” Nadal said. “He was playing unbelievable tournament. He’s a very good colleague on the tour. I know how much he’s fighting to win a Grand Slam, and for the moment he was unlucky. He will win more than one Grand Slam, and I wish him all the best.

“It’s one of the biggest challenges to play Zverev when he’s playing like this. It’s a super high level. It’s difficult to say things in this situation. For me to be in the final of Roland Garros is a dream, but at the same time to finish that way and to see him crying is a tough moment, so all the best to him.”

Nadal has been dealing with chronic pain in his left foot and was coming off a pair of victories that each lasted more than 4 hours — including against defending champion Novak Djokovic on Tuesday — but showed no signs of age, injury or fatigue against 25-year-old Zverev.

The match was played indoors at Court Philippe Chatrier, with the retractable roof installed in 2020 shut because of afternoon showers.

In addition to bidding for a 14th trophy from the French Open, Nadal can claim his 22nd Grand Slam title to extend the men’s record he already holds after his triumph at the Australian Open in January.

Djokovic and Roger Federer are tied at 20.

There’s also this on the line for Nadal in Sunday’s final against No. 8 Casper Ruud of Norway or No. 20 Marin Cilic of Croatia: It would be the first time the Spaniard has won the first two legs of the calendar-year Grand Slam.

Cilic won the 2014 US Open; Ruud has never been to a major final.

Zverev used his pure power throughout the match to stake himself to a 3-1 lead after 19 minutes in large part because he accumulated seven winners before Nadal delivered a single one.

Before the match came to a halt, Zverev had compiled nearly twice as many winners as Nadal, 40-21

When Zverev did try a drop shot in the match’s eighth game, it was merely so-so, and Nadal not only reached it but ripped a down-the-line backhand passing winner. A few points later, Zverev set up a break point for Nadal by double-faulting.

Things would get worse from there for Zverev in that game. His racket flew out of his hand and landed behind him after one wild swing mistakenly sent a ball zipping past the chair umpire until it landed 10 feet wide of the court. Later, an errant backhand let Nadal break for the first time, making it 4-all and sending red-and-yellow Spanish flags flapping in the stands.

In the opening tiebreaker, Zverev began brilliantly, taking a 6-2 lead to earn four set points.

But then Nadal did what he does so often to so many opponents — just by hanging in there.

Nadal saved Zverev’s fourth set point with the help of a drop shot. When it was Nadal’s turn to press for the set, he finally sealed it with a down-the-line forehand passing winner, then held his follow-through pose for a moment while staring into the stands.

Information from ESPN’s Tom Hamilton and The Associated Press was used in this report.


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