German Alexander Zverev thought his time had finally come to win a grand slam title but his French Open campaign ended in pain and agony after he was forced to retire during his semi-final against Spaniard Rafael Nadal with an ankle injury.
Long touted as a potential major champion, Zverev fought tooth-and-nail against 13-time Roland Garros winner Nadal under the closed roof of Court Philippe Chatrier before he rolled his right ankle and fell while trailing 7-6(8) 6-6.
He kept screaming in pain before leaving the court crying in a wheelchair as people in the packed stands and his opponent looked on in shock. The lanky German returned on crutches few minutes later to confirm his retirement.
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“At the end of the day, I said a lot of times, I’m not 20 or 21 years old anymore; I’m 25,” the Olympic singles champion said this week after halting the juggernaut of Spanish teen sensation Carlos Alcaraz in the quarter-finals.
“I am at the stage where I want to win, I’m at the stage where I’m supposed to win, as well.”
A maiden grand alam title at Roland Garros would have seen Zverev, who lost to Stefanos Tsitsipas in last year’s semi-final, rise to the top of the men’s world rankings on Monday following the conclusion of the claycourt major.
He was also looking to become the second German man to reach the Roland Garros final in the Open Era, joining 1996 runner-up Michael Stich.
Nadal was the last man to retire in a grand slam semi-final or final when the Spaniard pulled out from his last four match at the 2018 US Open while trailing Argentine Juan Martin del Potro by two sets.
“Very tough and very sad for him,” Nadal said on court. “Honestly, he was playing an unbelievable tournament. He’s a very good colleague on the Tour.
“I know how much he’s fighting to win a grand slam, but for the moment he was very unlucky. The only thing I’m sure is that he is going to win not one, more than one.”
While the extent of Zverev’s injury was still unclear, there was doubt over his participation at the grasscourt major in Wimbledon, which starts on June 27.
“When you heard those cries you knew it was serious,” said Eurosport analyst Chris Evert, who won seven of her 18 majors at Roland Garros.
“My mind wondered to that big summer of Wimbledon and US Open and whether he is going to be able to play or will he miss those. The thing with Zverev is that he was really coming into his own, he was playing so well this whole tournament.”