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French Open Day 15: Carlos Alcaraz fights back to win first Roland Garros title against Alexander Zverev

Carlos Alcaraz had not had the dazzling clay season you might have expected. Hampered by a forearm injury, he was sidelined for three of the four major tournaments he had planned to compete in and was outplayed by Andrey Rublev in the one he managed to play.

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Bearing in mind his powerful playing style, there were several question marks over whether he had the fitness and preparation to go the distance in Paris. 

His opponent in the final, Alexander Zverev had enjoyed a far less turbulent run-in (at least on the court), picking up the title in Rome the week prior.

The 21-year-old Spaniard has exhibited astonishing quality and resolve over the last fortnight and after a chaotic five sets, won his third grand slam title and first on the red Parisian clay 6-3, 2-6, 5-7, 6-1, 6-2.

“Winning a Grand Slam is always special, but here in Roland Garros, knowing all the Spanish players who have won here, to put my name on that list is unbelievable,” Alcaraz said.

“I dreamt to be in this position since I started playing tennis.”

This latest triumph means Alcaraz becomes the youngest man in history to win a major on all three surfaces, a record previously held by compatriot Rafael Nadal. The now three-time grand slam champion is now level with the likes of Andy Murray and Arthur Ashe.

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Zverev’s fortnight has been overshadowed by his public domestic abuse trial that has lingered in the background of his relative successes on the court.The 27-year-old allegedly physically assaulted his ex-girlfriend, Brenda Patea, who is also the mother of their child.

The court was told that Zverev was accused of pushing and strangling Patea in May 2020, allegations he denies. 

Just before his semi-final clash against Casper Ruud, an out-of-court settlement was agreed and the court officially declared no verdict.

Sunday’s final was certainly not always the highest quality – the sets were often won or lost on account of one player dropping their level rather than the other raising theirs.

A cagey opening two games, including a bizarre Zverev racket change after just two points, saw breaks exchanged before Alcaraz found some rhythm and dictated the rallies to take the first set 6-2.

Zverev had shipped the first set in both his third round, quarter-final and semi-final matches, and today again found himself chasing the contest. As he also has done all fortnight, he managed to find his big serve and capitalise on a drop in his opponents level. 

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Having broken twice to take the second set 6-2, the German suddenly found himself 5-2 down as Alcaraz perked up once more. A remarkable lapse, including a litany of framed mishits followed with the 21-year-old buckling and losing the next five games to trail for the second match in a row – like his semi-final against new World No. 1, we were going the distance once again.

Shrugging off the car-crash of the third, Alcaraz marched to a 4-1 lead before receiving a medical time-out for his left leg. Seemingly it did not affect his ball-striking with the third seed peppering Zverev’s baseline to win 6-2 and send the final to a one-set shootout.

“Carlos, Carlos,” rang round Court Phillipe-Chatrier as Zverev succumbed to the pressure, missing two straightforward volleys and hitting a double-fault to let slip an early break. Alcaraz fought back from 0-40 in the following game to consolidate the advantage 3-1.

A controversial line-call from umpire Renaud Lichtenstein at 15-40 infuriated Zverev and ultimately proved costly as the German would’ve levelled for 2-2. With HawkEye not believed to be as accurate on clay as it is on other surfaces, this particular call fell within the normal margins of error.

Ultimately it was incredibly marginal and with Zverev’s ‘playing to not lose’ strategy, it can hardly be considered all that pivotal in my book. 

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Alcaraz broke again and after a ‘one-for-the-highlight-reel’ slice backhand at full-stretch zipped past Zverev, he confidently served the match out and fell back onto the clay to absorb the occasion.

It is not the first time Zverev has lost a grand slam final after leading, having been defeated at the 2020 US Open by Dominic Thiem from two sets up. 

After such little preparation, Alcaraz’s triumph in Paris becomes even more impressive. For much of the match, he was not close to his best but still managed to play the bigger points better than Zverev.

A title in Australia would complete a glorious career-grand slam, a feat achieved by only 18 other players (eight men, ten women).

With The Olympics fast approaching, Zverev will hope to be back to defend his title, with Alcaraz likely the hot-favourite to steal it from him.


  • Sam France

    Sam France is an avid tennis watcher and player, frequently found passionately raving about the WTA. A journalist with a passion for all things sport, culture, and politics, Sam is a committed Radio 4 listener. A big WSL fan, Sam is still searching for a Guro Reiten autograph. @SamFrance28