3 seed Alexander Zverev returned to the French Open semi-finals 6-4 6-4 4-6 7-6 (7) over Carlos Alcaraz on Tuesday to end the Spanish season with 19. One-year-old animatronics at Roland Garros.
Zverev, the 25-year-old German, also halted Alcaraz’s exciting comeback in the quarter-finals. Zverev, whom Alcaraz lost in the Madrid Open final before the French Open, was the most consistent and convincing player for nearly three sets. “I think letting him go through with the match and letting him get confidence would be very difficult for me to come back from,” Zverev said.
But Alcaraz, who was on the verge of being eliminated quickly, upped his game. As usual, this was a great spectacle, producing accurate shots, a daring comeback, reflexive aerial balls, and a full forehand win that left the 6-foot-6 Zverev staring wistfully at the ball marks on the red clay court.
Alcaraz, like top seed Novak Djokovic, is half tennis and half gymnast. And with a flurry of brilliant and acrobatic tennis, Alcaraz, seeded No. 6, took the third set. With another surge late in the fourth set, Zverev broke while serving in the match, 5-4. This overall duel was, at this point, well worth a tie-breaker, and both men produced excellence under duress but also cracked.
Alcaraz scored a set point at 6-5 in the tiebreak and failed to convert it when he committed an unforced backhand foul at the top of the net. Zverev missed a backhand on his own on his first match point during the tiebreak.
It was now 7-7 and chants of “Carlos, Carlos” were getting louder. But Zverev, with the fans and the flows against him, strengthened himself, winning the next two points to wrap up the match. He finished off the victory with a daring backhand that Alcaraz, one of the fastest men in tennis, couldn’t even get close to.
“It’s one shot I like, it’s true,” said Zverev, smiling during his post-match press conference, which began by raising his arms victoriously.
“I’ve done that a lot in my career,” he said of his backhand winner. “But I had to win the match myself, I felt like I’d miss it by a mile or have a winner, and I got a winner, which I’m very happy with.”
Alcaraz, in the midst of a great season, is still playing in just four Grand Slam tournaments.
“I leave the field, I leave the tournament with my head very high,” he said. “I fight until the last ball. I fought until the last second of the match, and I am proud of that.”
But the best five-group format remains another kind of challenge than the best three-group variety played in the regular round. Currently, Alcaraz’s best results in the majors have been the quarter-final rounds at last year’s US Open and now in Paris.
“I didn’t start well, and at this level, in the quarter-finals of a Grand Slam, you’re playing against the best players in the world, so you have to start the game better than I did today,” Alcaraz said. “I have to take the lesson. I mean, I have to improve to the next Grand Slam or the next matches. But I’d say I’m not far from getting to the semi-finals or being able to win one of the Grand Slams.”
Apparently Zverev, who reached the semi-finals at Roland Garros last year, felt the odds were against him on Tuesday in light of Alcaraz’s recent results. Alcaraz had won the Barcelona and Madrid titles back-to-back on the red sand courts and resumed rolling at Roland Garros after saving the match point against fellow Spaniard Albert Ramos-Vinolas in the second round.
“I knew I had to play my absolute best in tennis today from the start, and I’m glad I did,” Zverev said. “Obviously he kept coming back. He’s a great player. I told him on the net, he’s going to win this tournament a few times, not just once, and I just hope I win it before he starts to beat us all, and we’ll never have a chance.”
Zverev, despite his impressive performance (and apparent relief) on Tuesday, is still far from winning his first Grand Slam singles title. In the semi-finals, he will face the winner of Tuesday’s second game: a night session between Djokovic and fifth seed Rafael Nadal, who has won the French Open 13 times.
“It wasn’t really easier than here,” Zverev said, still looking happy. “But I’ve said so many times, I’m no longer 20 or 21; I’m 25. I’m at the stage where I want to win, I’m at the stage where I’m supposed to win too.”
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