Alexander Zverev puts a likely end to Rafael Nadal's French Open career

Rafael Nadal is the best player ever at the French Open but Alexander Zverev is the better player now.
Alexander Zverev and Rafael Nadal faced off at the 2024 French Open
Alexander Zverev and Rafael Nadal faced off at the 2024 French Open / Clive Mason/GettyImages

There was little doubt the Paris crowd was firmly behind Rafael Nadal in his first-round match against Alexander Zverev at the French Open. No one knew entering the match whether this would be the Spaniard’s last match ever in singles at Roland Garros or perhaps another step toward winning his 15th title on Paris clay. Either way, those watching on TV or streaming or in person knew they were watching something important.

Zverev was not some lesser player who barely made the tournament. He entered the match as the ATP No. 4 and had just won the Italian Open. Nadal had never faced a player of the ilk of Zverev so early at Roland Garros.

Nadal knew he was going to have to battle more than just Zverev, though. The Spaniard had not been able to play a lot of tournaments in 2024 due to various ailments. Winning a Grand Slam match is more than which player is better. Tennis is an endurance sport and winning a match on the men’s side at a major means having to win three sets. Would Nadal be able to outlast Zverev?

Alexander Zverev likely ends Rafael Nadal's French Open career

To begin the match, as expected, Zverev showed no fear. The two players had faced each other ten times before. The German knew what to expect. He also unleashed his forehands and backhands from the start, hitting each wing about ten MPH faster than he normally does. He wanted to set the tone as the more aggressive player and as if he wanted to take Nadal’s legs from under him early.

The crowd was not going to let Nadal wilt. This felt more like a football game than a tennis match. The crowd was quiet when they needed to be but much more bombastic overall. If Nadal was going to lose, he was not going to drop the match without knowing the crowd was fully supporting him.

The second set was brilliantly played by both players and might have been one of the best sets of the year. Nadal had a break lead, but Zverev got the break back. As much as Nadal was not going to give Zverev the victory, Zverev was taking the win all the same. The German got the first two sets, and one might have wondered if the time to play alone - a bit over two hours - was taking a toll on Nadal.

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To be sure, the match turned into one where Nadal's experience and high tennis IQ battled with Zverev's immense athleticism. Still, Zverev is not a mindless player, and Nadal is not without high-end physical skill. The sets were tight, and the vast majority of players would have lost more easily to either Nadal or Zverev.

Alexander Zverev likely ended Rafael Nadal's French Open singles career because at this point in both player's careers, the German is the better player. His movement is elite, his backhand impeccable, and the pace he puts on his shots too much for a 37-year-old Rafael Nadal. Nadal is the best player ever at the French Open. Zverev is better now and took the match 6-3 7-6 6-3.

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