Rafael Nadal knocked out in first round of potential last French Open appearance

Rafael Nadal Knocked Out In First Round Of Potential Last French Open Appearance
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By Andy Sims, PA, Paris

Rafael Nadal said he did not want a French Open leaving party, but he got one anyway as he bowed out to Alexander Zverev in the first round at Roland Garros.

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.


Unseeded after his long injury absence and still way below the peak of his powers, Nadal was unfortunate to run into the in-form world number four in the opening round.

Alexander Zverev, left, beat Rafael Nadal
Alexander Zverev, left, beat Rafael Nadal (Thibault Camus/AP)

But Nadal gave the 27-year-old, 10 years his junior and a favourite for the title, a serious match before going down 6-3 7-6 (5) 6-3 in front of an adoring and emotional Philippe Chatrier crowd.


The Spaniard had told tournament organisers last week that he did not want a farewell ceremony as he would not “close the door” on a return to the Paris showpiece.

It seemed no one had got the memo, though. 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 number one 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.

Iga Swiatek, bottom row fourth from left, Carlos Alcaraz, top row third from left, and Novak Djokovic, standing right in blue sweater and white cap, were all in attendance
Iga Swiatek, bottom row fourth from left, Carlos Alcaraz, top row third from left, and Novak Djokovic, standing right in blue sweater and white cap, were all in attendance (Jean-Francois Badias/AP)

Manchester City midfielder Rodri, no stranger to titles himself, was another famous face in the crowd.

They were all treated to flashes of the old brilliance; the rat-a-tat volley exchange in the first set, the drop shot from three feet behind the baseline in the second and the flashing forehand winner to clinch a break at the start of the third.

But a slow start had 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.


So Nadal’s astonishing Roland Garros record now reads played 116, won 112, as Zverev added his name to Djokovic and Robin Soderling as the only players to beat him here.

It was a significant win for the German, who still has the cloud of a trial over domestic abuse allegations – which he denies – hanging over him and which begins this weekend.

The last time he faced Nadal was on the same court two years ago in the semi-finals, when he slipped and seriously injured his ankle, costing him the best part of a year of his career.

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 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.

Spectators applaud Rafael Nadal
Spectators applaud Rafael Nadal (Thibault Camus/AP)

“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.”

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