French Open: Nadal Makes Early Exit At Roland Garros

Rafael Nadal was eliminated in the first round of the 2024 French Open by Alexander Zverev to notch just his fourth loss in 116 matches at Roland Garros. The 14-time winner was beaten in straight sets, 6-3 7-6 (7-5) 6-3 by the in-form German who came into the tournament as the fourth seed.

Nadal Makes Early Exit At Roland Garros
Associated Press / Alamy Stock Photo

The only players to have defeated Nadal at Roland Garros are after Robin Soderling in 2009, Novak Djokovic in 2015 and 2021 and now Zverev in 2024.

Nadal came into the competition unseeded for the first time and ranked 275th, which resulted in him being matched up a leading player in the draw. 

Although Zverev has never won a major before and has only reached the one final, he has been a consistent performer in ATP events for years now. He’s reached the French Open semi finals three years in a row now and will be a favorite going forward to take the title. 

In a pre-tournament news conference, Nadal said that he felt like his practice sessions showed he could “play against anyone”. Practice however, couldn’t replicate the conditions of a real match, as Nadal made a number of unforced errors and didn’t look like his fluent self from the past.

The ‘King of Clay,’ indicated that this could be his last year on tour, making this his final attempt to add another French Open to his name. The 37-year old recently came back from a serious injury which had him sit out last year’s French Open and much of the early 2024 season. 

Zverev will go on to face the winner of David Goffin of Germany and the French Giovanni Mpetshi Perricard in the second round, later this week.

Zverev has been reported to have a court case over domestic abuse allegations which requires him to be back in Germany on Friday. He has stated that the case will not distract him on his quest to take home the first Grand Slam of his career.

Match Summary

Anticipation for Nadal’s return to Roland Garros had brought fans from around the world to Paris, easily identifiable with their Spanish red and yellow flags and ‘Gracias Rafa’ T-shirts. He received a loud reception as he arrived on Court Philippe Chatrier, the scene of many of his best French Open moments.

It should be noted that Nadal’s great rival Djokovic, along with defending women’s champion Iga Swiatek and Wimbledon men’s champion Carlos Alcaraz, were all sitting in the crowd.

In an ominous start, Zverev broke Nadal’s serve in the first game of the match. Nadal looked very scratchy out of the gate, making a poor drop shot into the net and then double faulting to give the German the early advantage. 

Zverev was able to save a couple of break points himself to take a 3-1 lead and then broke again to take the set 6-3.

Nadal came into the second set with much more aggression and it paid off as he moved into a 4-2 lead. The crowd really got behind him but couldn’t stop Zverev from striking back as he broke Nadal in the 10th game to push level.  

The set went to a tiebreaker which was close until Zverev nailed a couple of precise winners to win 7-5 and go up two sets to love. 

Like most of his career, Nadal showed no signs of giving up in the third, as he once again moved a break up. The result was no different however as Zverev storned back from down 2-1 to up 4-3 and then put away the match by winning the last two games.

Nadal, as he has always done in his illustrious career, refused to give up and created two break points in the eighth game, but Zverev came through in a strong finish.

After the match there were many fans crying in the stands and Nadal departed to another standing ovation with the crowd showing their appreciation for the tournament’s finest champion.

Nadal has still not made any remarks about a possible retirement but it does seem like his glory days are behind him. This could be the last time Nadal is ever seen playing on clay.