Rafael Nadal-slayer Alexander Zverev survives against Tallon Griekspoor

Zverev played the most important first-round match at the French Open ever, but could he win in the third round?
Alexander Zverev at the French Open
Alexander Zverev at the French Open / Clive Brunskill/GettyImages

Alexander Zverev has been playing great tennis recently. Ahead of the French Open, he won the Italian Open and he should have been considered a favorite in Paris. He then shockingly drew Rafael Nadal in the first round at Roland Garros, leading to probably the most important first-round match in Grand Slam history. Zverev defeated 14-time French Open champion Nadal in three sets.

Tallon Griekspoor is not a bad player. He entered the major ranked 25 on the ATP tour. He is also 27 years old, however, and had never sniffed a chance to win a Grand Slam. Making the third round in Paris matched his career-best result at a Grand Slam. At Roland Garros, the best he had done was making the second round in 2023.

In 2024, Griekspoor had only made it past the third round in any event only once, and then he summarily lost in the next round. No one expected him to defeat Zverev, especially the way the German had been playing over the last month. Even after taking the first set from Zverev, people would have been right to doubt that Griekspoor could win two more sets.

Alexander Zverev pushes by Tallon Griekspoor at the French Open

In sets two and three, Griekspoor won a total of six games. Many might have turned off the match at that point as there seemed to be little chance of a Griekspoor comeback. But with pinpoint serving - the Dutchman was landing 70 percent of his first serves for the match well into the fifth set and he normally only lands about 64 percent - and well-timed drop-shots, Griekspoor found a way to win the fourth set.

He also led the fifth set 4-1 after breaking Zverev twice. His form was a notch higher than the German's and Zverev was not playing poorly; Griekspoor was likely just playing the best match of his life. This is when his troubles began. Zverev broke Griekspoor twice and the games failed to become overly close and after trailing 1-4, Zverev reeled off four straight games to take a 5-4 lead with Griekspoor needing a hold to stay in the match.

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Shockingly falling behind might have been one of the best things that could have happened to Griekspoor. The nerves he had to close out the match almost certainly affected his play during the middle of the fifth set. He was attempting to do something he had never done before. That is not easy for anyone in any walk of life. At 4-5. though, Griekspoor found a way to hold serve with ease.

Each player held serve to take the match to a tie-break. Griekspoor not cracking completely under the pressure was impressive. Zverev not becoming unraveled by frustration was equally so. Perhaps the calm that Zverev has from winning 22 titles in his career was enough in the end as he took the tie-break fairly easily to win the match in five sets. It was perhaps one of the few relatively drama-free times in the match.

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