June 13th, 2024

Carlos Alcaraz wins the French Open for a third Grand Slam title at 21 by beating Alexander Zverev


By Howard Fendrich, The Associated Press on June 9, 2024.

Spain's Carlos Alcaraz celebrates as he won the semifinal match of the French Open tennis tournament against Italy's Jannik Sinner at the Roland Garros stadium in Paris, Friday, June 7, 2024. (AP Photo/Jean-Francois Badias)

PARIS (AP) – As Carlos Alcaraz began constructing his comeback in Sunday’s French Open final, a 6-3, 2-6, 5-7, 6-1, 6-2 victory over Alexander Zverev for a first championship at Roland Garros and third Grand Slam title in all, there arrived the sort of magical shot the kid is making a regular part of his varied repertoire.

It was a running, then sliding, down-the-line, untouchable forehand passing winner that Alcaraz celebrated by thrusting his right index finger overhead in a “No. 1″ sign, then throwing an uppercut while screaming, “Vamos!”

No, he is not ranked No. 1 at the moment – the man he beat in the semifinals, Jannik Sinner, makes his debut at the top spot on Monday – but Alcaraz has been there before and, although a “2” will be beside his name next week, there is little doubt that he is as good as it gets in men’s tennis right now. And more accomplished than any man ever was at his age.

Alcaraz is a 21-year-old from Spain who grew up running home from school to watch on TV as countryman Rafael Nadal was accumulating title after title at Roland Garros – a record 14 – and he eclipsed Nadal as the youngest man to collect major championships on three surfaces. Nadal was about 1 1/2 years older when he did it.

“Different tournaments, different aura,” Alcaraz said when asked to distinguish among his trio of trophies, “but I’m going to say: same feeling. I mean, winning a Grand Slam is always special,”

This one from the clay-court major joins hardware from triumphs on hard courts at the U.S. Open in 2022 and on grass at Wimbledon in 2023. He is 3-0 in Slam finals.

“It’s an amazing career already. You’re already a Hall of Famer. You already achieved so much – and you’re only 21 years old,” said Zverev, who also lost the 2020 U.S. Open final, that one after being two points from winning. “Incredible player. Not the last time you’re going to win this.”

Zverev, a 27-year-old from Germany, exited the French Open in the semifinals each of the past three years, including after tearing ankle ligaments during the second set against Nadal in that round in 2022. Hours before Zverev’s semifinal victory over Casper Ruud began on Friday, a Berlin district court announced that he reached an out-of-court settlement that ended a trial stemming from an ex-girlfriend’s accusation of assault during a 2020 argument.

On Sunday against Alcaraz, Zverev faltered after surging in front by reeling off the last five games of the third set. Alcaraz’s level dipped during that stretch and he seemed distracted by a complaint over the condition of the clay, telling chair umpire Renaud Lichtenstein it was “unbelievable.”

But Alcaraz reset and ran away with it, taking 12 of the last 15 games while being treated by a trainer at changeovers for some pain and cramping in his left leg.

“I know that when I’m playing a fifth set, you have to give everything and you have to give your heart,” Alcaraz said. “I mean, in those moments, it’s where the top players give their best tennis.”

No. 3 seed Alcaraz and No. 4 Zverev were making their first appearance in a French Open final. Indeed, this was the first men’s title match at Roland Garros since 2004 without at least one of Nadal, Novak Djokovic or Roger Federer.

Nadal, who is 38 and was limited by injuries over the last two seasons, lost to Zverev in the first round two weeks ago; Djokovic, 37, a three-time champion, withdrew before the quarterfinals with a knee injury that required surgery; Federer, 42, is retired.

There were some jitters at the outset. Zverev started with two double-faults – changing rackets after the second, as though the equipment were the culprit – and got broken. Alcaraz lost serve immediately, too.

Let’s just say they won’t be putting those initial 10 minutes in the Louvre. Actually, lot of the 4-hour, 19-minute match was patchy, littered with unforced errors.

Alcaraz was at his best when it mattered the most – the last two sets.

“I lost focus, and on my serve, I didn’t get the power from my legs anymore, which is weird. Because normally I do not get tired. I don’t cramp,” Zverev said. “Against Carlos, it’s a different intensity.”

Just like he did against Zverev, Alcaraz overturned a deficit of two sets to one against Sinner, making him the first man to capture the French Open by doing that in each of the last two matches since Manolo Santana – also from Spain – in 1961.

Alcaraz showed off all of his skills: the drop shots, the artful half-volleys, the intimidating forehands delivered aggressively and accompanied by a loud grunt. His 27 forehand winners were 20 more than Zverev’s total.

Not bad for a guy who arrived in Paris saying he was afraid to hit his forehand at full force because of a forearm injury that sidelined him for nearly all of May. He said Sunday that there were “a lot of doubts” entering the French Open and he was forced to limit his practice time – which is why he considers this victory the proudest moment of his still-nascent career.

In the fifth set, under constant pressure from Alcaraz, Zverev got broken to fall behind 2-1. The next game showed the grit and gumption that already are hallmarks of Alcaraz’s style.

Zverev – who argued about one line call on a second serve by Alcaraz that the German said afterward was out according to an unofficial video review – would hold four break points. He failed to convert any. Alcaraz didn’t let him, and wrapped up the game with a drop shot.

The crowd roared. Alcaraz held his left index finger to his ear while waving his racket. He broke again for 5-2, then served it out and dropped onto his back, caking his shirt with clay – just as Nadal often did after championship point.

Alcaraz first learned to play tennis on the rust-colored surface, although he says he prefers hard courts. Alcaraz says he dreamed long ago of adding his own name to the list of Spanish men to win the event, including his coach, 2003 champion Juan Carlos Ferrero.

And those red-and-yellow Spanish flags that became such an annual fixture at Court Philippe Chatrier in the era of Nadal were there again Sunday, this time for Alcaraz. The difference? The cries of “Ra-fa! Ra-fa!” were now “Car-los! Car-los!”

___

AP tennis: https://apnews.com/hub/tennis

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