The idea was to keep out the rain when a massive retractable roof was built over Philippe Chartier. To avoid any rainy interruptions, the eleven wings of the roof were closed down for a semi-final clash between Rafael Nadal and Alexander Zverev, and it wouldn’t be far-fetched to suggest that in a game between two of the most insanely skilled players, the final say belonged to the modern architecture. Under the roof, Nadal and Zverev were sweating profusely, and not even for a second, it felt like either of them was in control of their shots, their movements, or their motives.
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Even if you had plugged in two hours after the start, you wouldn’t have missed anything. There was nothing to be missed. The slow and humid conditions of the court were a recipe for some of the most uninspiring passages of play. An error-fest that was bound to run for an extremely long time, testing patience, draining energy, and at some point in the second set, your love for the sports might have taken an existential turn.
But then, Zverev, while chasing a crushing forehand, rolled his ankle and tumbled down on the floor. All of a sudden, the boredom looked like a much better state to be in than seeing a fellow human screaming in agony, twisting and turning in extreme discomfort. Zverev was soon carted off in a wheelchair. Not the end anyone, even the greatest Nadal fan, would have wished for. An eight-hour snooze fest was not a bad idea after all.
The terrible ending was a perfect demonstration of the transient nature of any sporting action. The emotional fluctuations sports arouse rarely have a long-lasting impression. It doesn’t take too long for a state of invincibility to turn into full-blown despair, or for a monotonous phase to be snapped by just one sequence of play, no emotions are final. A pressing sense of interruption was felt when Nadal vs Zverev started to feel like a tug-off war where neither side was taking a step forward. But still, the ending felt like it came way too early.
Nadal, who was screaming at every error of his rival, crossed the nets and stood nearby. Seven minutes later, Nadal accompanied Zverev on his long walk to the court, to inform the umpire that he is retiring. The Spaniard was through to the final, but not in a way he would have liked.
“Of course, for me, as everybody knows, being in the final of Roland Garros one more time is a dream without a doubt,” Nadal said. “But at the same time, to finish that way, I have been there in the small room with Sascha before we came back on court, and to see him crying there is a very tough moment. So just all the best to him and all the team.”
Zverev was fighting hard to reach his first-ever French Open final. He might not be the most liked player, given his past off-court records, but he didn’t deserve to go out in such a way. While he made too many unforced errors, missed out on easy chances, on rare occasions when his much-vaunted forehands came good, the only thing Nadal could do was stand and watch.
Against the top-ten rivals in five-setters, Zverev’s only victory of his career came a few days ago, by thrashing Carlos Alcaraz in the quarter-finals. He might have had his second of his career if not for the injury. Or he might not. But this has been the recurrent theme of Zverev’s career so far. Once hyped as the future of tennis in the post-big-three world, Zverev has struggled to assert his authority where it matters the most: the Grand Slams. He is currently ranked No. 3 in the world, and though his best days are yet to come, there’s no certainty over his comeback for now. Even more concerning, will he be able to maintain his current tempo after recovery?
Nadal offered words of encouragement, saying the current Olympic gold medallist will win more Grand Slams. “I know how much he’s fighting to win a Grand Slam but for the moment he was very unlucky. The only thing is I’m sure he’s going to win not one, much more than one, and I wish him all the best and a very fast recovery.”
Nadal’s next and final opponent is Casper Ruud, who defeated Marin Cilic in the semi-final to become the first Norwegian to qualify for the French Open final. It won’t be an easy battle for Nadal, who hasn’t been at his fluent best in the entire tournament. The age is surely catching up, but it’s Roland Garros final, where he will continue to be the favorite till his very last appearance.
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