Paris | Nadal suffers a rare Roland Garros defeat.

As far as fans were concerned, there was only one match which mattered on the second day of the French Open and that was the one everyone had been talking about ever since the draw was made last week.

I felt I was able to move myself much better than in the previous tournaments. But I had a very tough opponent in front. And he played well, I think. Even like this, I had my chances, you know, Rafa Nadal

There can be no denying that whoever had a ticket for Court Philippe Chatrier on Monday, was the envy of all those who didn’t as history was very much in the air.

Even the stars of the moment, Iga Swiatek, Carlos Alcaraz and Novak Djokovic, squeezed themselves on to the court to watch the action between the record holding 14-time French Open champion, and the in-form Alexander Zverev, last week’s Rome Masters winner and the man, who two years ago, suffered a career-threatening ankle injury whilst playing on the same court, a semi-final with his current opponent.

Nadal had questioned his own fitness for many weeks prior to the event but had declared himself fit albeit with a minimal amount of actual matches under his belt, but more than good enough to face the top players on the tour.

Rafael Nadal kept up the fight throughout

(Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)

Unfortunately, despite all his best efforts, Nadal, the ‘King of Clay’, crashed out to the in-form fourth seeded German who had always felt he had the measure of the Spaniard two years ago before suffering that horrendous injury.

Monday’s 6-3 7-6(5) 6-3 result was indeed sweet revenge as Zverev became only the third player ever to beat Nadal on the clay courts of Roland Garros in 15 years!

Zveev was in fact in inspired form and played with a lot of control, patience and power as he outmanoeuvred Nadal in front of the packed stands which continually showed their support of their former champion throughout the match, in a very boisterous fashion,

And they were regularly rewarded by some winners from the Spaniard but despite some magic moments from him, the 37-year-old (who will celebrate a birthday next week) couldn’t find an answer to combat his 27- year-old challenger.

Nadal’s problems effectively started with the first game as he was broken to love as a result of some aggressive play from Zverev from the first point.

Nadal showed his usual fighting spirit to stay within touch, but the German maintained the pressure to pocket the opener with a second break.

The second set was a true demonstration of the classic that this first-round encounter had always promised to be.

A roar of celebration from Nadal after holding at 2-2 showed how hard he was being made to work for every point, but he grasped his first break of the match in the following game, closing it out with a ferocious forehand and a delicate drop-shot winner.

The former champion pressed on looking to level the scores at one set each, but Zverev’s superb serving kept him in the hunt and at 5-3 he forced Nadal to serve out.

Nadal crucially failed to hold his serve allowing the world No4 back into the set and despite Nadal’s efforts, he couldn’t prevent a tie break where Zverev snuck through to pull ahead by two sets to love.

There was some hope for Nadal when he took an early lead in the third, but it was short lived as Zverev immediately struck back.

However, he came under pressure again as Nadal held four break points but failed to convert. Nadal continued to press and had two more chances to go ahead but eventually was forced to serve to stay in the match where he was immediately attacked by some stupendous Zverev returns and play which produced two match points for the German but a long backhand from Nadal on the first of thm, proved enough for Zverev to progress to the second round.

The big question now is whether this will go down as Nadal’s last match at a French Open.

Meanwhile Zverev was quick to pay tribute to the Sanish icon.

Alexander Zverev power proved too much

(Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)

“I don’t know what to say,” the German star declared. “Thank you Rafa from all of the tennis world. It’s such a great honour.

“I’ve watched Rafa play all my childhood and was lucky enough to play him two times on this beautiful court when I became a professional.

“I don’t know what to say. Today is not my moment, it’s Rafa’s moment.”

Nadal was also interviewed on court but left the question over any future appearance at next year’s French very much in the air.

“It’s difficult for me to talk,” he said. “I don’t know if it’s going to be the last time that I’m going to be here in front of all of you honestly. I’m not 100% sure.

“But if it’s the last time, I enjoyed it. The crowd have been amazing during the whole week of preparation and today.

“The feelings that I have today are difficult to describe in words. For me it’s so special to feel the love of the people the way that I’ve felt, in the place I love the most.”

Rafael Nadal speaks to the media after his loss

(Photo by EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP via Getty Images)

In a press conference later, he expanded his thoughts.

“If it’s the last time that I played here, I am in peace with myself,” Nadal told the attending media. “I tried everything to be ready for this tournament for almost 20 years. And today and the last two years I have been working and going through probably the toughest process in my tennis career with the dream to come back here.

“At least I did. I mean, I lost, but that’s part of the business.

“As I said before, have been a positive week for me of practice in all ways. In terms of physical performance, too. Without a doubt I felt much better than before. I didn’t feel that limitations. Today in the match the same.

“I felt I was able to move myself much better than in the previous tournaments. But I had a very tough opponent in front. And he played well, I think. Even like this, I had my chances, you know, with serving for the set in the second, then against another 15-40. In the third again a break up and then another 15-40 and 5-3 in the second to 15-30.

“I need to clear my ideas now and see what’s the new calendar for me to try to be ready for Olympics,” Nadal said. “I can’t say anything today, but my main goal now is to play Olympics. That’s going to be here. So, I need to prepare myself the proper way to try to arrive here healthy and well-prepared, and then let’s see.”

It also means he is unlikely to play Wimbledon!



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