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By Richard Pagliaro | @TennisNow | Sunday, June 9, 2024


Carlos Alcaraz fought off Alexander Zverev 6-3, 2-6, 5-7, 6-1, 6-2 to win Roland Garros and become the youngest man to claim Slams on all three major surfaces.

Photo credit: Clive Brunskill/Getty

Shadows swallowed Court Chatrier completely when Carlos Alcaraz created blinding light.

Sliding behind the baseline, Alcaraz flicked a brilliant one-handed backhand pass that kissed the top of the tape and floated onto the red clay for a winner leaving a stupefied expression tattooed across Alexander Zverev’s face and finish line in sight.

More: Twitter Reacts to Iga Swiatek's Fourth Roland Garros Title

Inspired by imagination, Alcaraz fought off Zverev 6-3, 2-6, 5-7, 6-1, 6-2  in a four hour, 19-minute marathon to capture his first Roland Garros championship with a fervent finish.

"Winning a Grand Slam is always special," Alcaraz told the media in Paris. "Winning your first in every Grand Slam is always super special.

"But in Roland Garros, knowing all the Spanish players who have won this tournament and be able to put my name on that amazing list is something unbelievable. Something that I dream about being in this position since I was started playing tennis, since I was five, six years old."

The 21-year-old Spaniard showed steely spine and audacious shotmaking creativity under pressure to complete history.

Wimbledon winner Alcaraz is now a champion for all surfaces making history as the youngest man to capture Grand Slam championships on the three major surfaces: hard court (2022 US Open), grass (2023 Wimbledon) and now his native surface red clay in Paris.

When Zverev’s final shot died in net, Alcaraz collapse to court and arose as with a swath of salmon-colored clay streaking the back of his shirt and smile across his face.

Alcaraz embraced his coach and mentor former world No. 1 and 2003 Roland Garros champion Juan Carlos Ferrero, who could not travel to Melbourne where Zverev defeated the Spaniard at the Australian Open, but was a pivotal presence helping spark his charge’s comeback today. Alcaraz hugged his parents, Carlos and Virginia, after realizing this red clay dream.

Philanthropic force Alcaraz gave away the third set, squandering a 5-2 lead. Then the third-seeded Spaniard gave everything he had pouring his variety across the court like paint on a canvas and imposing his will against an opponent depleted by playing his third five-setter of the tournament. Zverev played nearly 24 hours of tennis through seven matches and was one set away from his maiden major.

Refusing to lose, Alcaraz fought off 17 of 23 break points and hit 14 more winners—52 to 38—than Zverev. Alcaraz improved to 3-0 in major finals, while Zvere fell to 0-2 in Grand Slam finals.

Ultimately, Alcaraz’s superior shot spectrum and deep desire carried him through: Alcaraz raised his five-set record to 11-1 hitting his way into history against an opponent who carried a 10-1 Roland Garros record in five-setters into day's decisive set.

"I know that when I'm playing a fifth set you have to give everything and you have to give your heart," Alcaraz told the media in Paris. "In those moments, it's where the top players give their best tennis.

"So as I said many times, I wanted to be one of the best tennis players in the world, so I have to give an extra in those moments in the fifth set, I have to show the opponent that I am fresh, I'm like we are playing the first game of the match.

"So I think that works pretty well if the opponents see me that I'm moving well, I'm hitting the good shots, I'm finding good solutions. And of course, the mental strength play a great part on that moment."

A champion for all surfaces, Alcaraz is the youngest man to win Roland Garros since Rafael Nadal from 2005-2007.

King of clay Nadal, who fell to Zverev in a blockbuster first-round showdown, famously said pain is a prerequisite to Grand Slam success. After gift-wrapping the third set, Alcaraz savored suffering today. Gulping pickle juice on some changeovers and taking a medical timeout for treatment at one point, Alcaraz played his most dynamic set of tennis with the Coupe des Mousquetaires on the line in that decisive fifth set.

Across the net, Zverev endured the stinging pain of coming achingly close to a maiden major only to lose a lead again. At the 2020 US Open, Zverev held a two sets to love lead over Dominic Thiem before bowing in five sets and today he was up two sets to one.

Credit Alcaraz for winning this final rather than Zverev losing it.

"I feel like I did everything I could today," Zverev told the media in Paris. "The fifth set, [expletive], there was some unlucky moments. I heard that at 2-1 the second serve [of Alcaraz] was out. From the Hawk-Eye data, I saw that. I break back there, I have break chances, and then in the next service game, a fifth set can go the other way.

"But it is what it is. Look, he played fantastic. He played better than me the fourth and fifth set. It's how it is. I felt like this Grand Slam final I did everything I could. At the US Open I kind of gave it away myself. It's a bit different."

It’s the first time since 2016 when Novak Djokovic defeated Andy Murray that Roland Garros crowned a men’s maiden champion.

Put Alcaraz on a court constructed on clouds and he'd find a way to drop shot through it. Smooth movement is one reason why Alcaraz is an all-surface champion, his willingness to initiate offense from any position on the court is another.

"I grew up playing on clay court, but the most tournament of the tour it is on hard court." Alcaraz said. "So I had to practice more on hard court, doing the preseason on hard court.

"So I started to feel more comfortable moving, hitting my shots playing on hard court, but I think my game suits very well on every surface because I practice it. You know, with dropshots, my volley, I wanted to develop my style being aggressive all the time...

"So I think that's on grass is pretty well or I have to do it on grass almost every time, but in all surfaces, I think it's a pretty good thing, as well."

Exploiting successive double faults from a jittery Zverev in the first two points, Alcaraz imposed his front-court skills dabbing a sliding drop volley winner for break point. Taking a mid-court forehand moving forward, Alcaraz jammed a forehand winner inside the line breaking to open.

Shaking off the nerves, Zverev broke right back in the second game.

Punishing forehands to all areas of the court and stepping into the court, Alcaraz scored the love break for a 3-2 lead. Unleashing a biting forehand into the corner, Alcaraz consolidated for 4-2.

Riding a 12-match winning streak into the final, Zverev struggled to navigate Alcaraz’s all-court acumen and relentless pressure.

The Wimbledon winner bookended the opening set with breaks. Curling a crosscourt forehand winner that looped completely off the court, Alcaraz snatched a one-set lead after 43 minutes with his third break.

Seventy-five minutes into the match, Zverev was thumping his forehand with more menace. Hammering a crosscourt forehand, Zverev rattled out a mis-hit reply, breaking at 30 for a 3-2 second-set lead—his first lead since 2-1.

Deadlocked at deuce, Zverev showed his skills on the move, running down a drop shot and wrong-footing Alcaraz shoveling a short-angled reply. That sequence helped Zverev hold for 4-2.

Striking with conviction, Zverev was pushing Alcaraz into chase mode. The third-seeded Spaniard spit up his third double fault to gift another break and 5-2 lead to Zverev.

Throwing down three heavy first serves, including firing his second ace brought Zverev triple set point. Zverev closed the second set on an Alcaraz error to level after 95 minutes.

The Olympic gold-medal champion’s ferocious first serve was the biggest shot in the court in the second set. Midway through the third set, Alcaraz broke through.

A short chip return started the sixth game, before Alcaraz blistered a backhand strike down the line. Jolting baseline drives helped Alcaraz bang out a love break for a 4-2 third set lead. Zverev cast concerned glance up at his father and coach, Alexander Zverev, Sr., in the support box.

Bouncing on his toes between strikes, Alcaraz did a good job guarding the baseline during rallies and not giving up too much ground to the big-hitting Zverev.

Facing break point in the seventh game, Alcaraz showed serious guts and soft touch carving out a forehand drop shot then spinning a backhand to save it. Crowd crescendo spiked at that audacious shot-making, so guess what? Alcaraz did it again on the next point flicking another improbable forehand dropper as he saved three break points to back up the break for 4-2.

Serving for the set at 5-3, Alcaraz sent a backhand long to face break point. Trying to rush his opponent, Alcaraz attacked near mid-court only to see Zverev bolt a bold backhand pass that left the Spaniard sprawling in the dirt in vain. That precise pass gave Zverev the break for 4-5 and completely shifted momentum in the 2020 US Open finalist’s favor.

Thundering down first serves that consistently clocked over 130 mph, Zverev roared through four straight games turning a 2-5 deficit into 6-5 lead.

“It’s a hard court…unbelievable…unbelievable,” Alcaraz complained to chair umpire Renaud Lichtenstein over what he claimed as a patch of court that lacked a clay cover after that game.

On set point, Alcaraz played some moon ball backhands and outlasted Zverev in a lengthy exchange to save it. Alcaraz spun a forehand pass down the line off a timid Zverev approach for break point in the 12th game. Zverev saved it then tomahawked a smash for a second set point.

Storming through five consecutive games, Zverev converted his second set point with a crosscourt forehand to go up two sets to one.

The two-time Grand Slam champion needed an intensity surge and created one. Sprinting right, Alcaraz curled a forehand pass down the line then erupted with a massive “Vamos!” breaking to go up 2-0 in the fourth set. Alcaraz backed up the break with a love hold for 3-0.

Three hours into the final, Zverev lost the rhythm and range on serve and Alcaraz made him pay. Showing his sleight of hand, Alcaraz dabbed a drop shot winner that died in the dirt breaking again for 4-0 and inciting chants of “Carlos! Carlos!” from French fans.

The drama took another twist. Alcaraz dropped serve for the fifth game then took a medical timeout for apparent left leg or groin issue. During the changeover, Alcaraz received massage on his left leg. A sloppy Zverev slapped a forehand into net as Alcaraz scored his seventh break for 5-1. Drilling his third ace down the T brought Alcaraz set point and he closed the fourth set after three hours, 24 minutes.

A fifth set would decide a first-time French Open champion.

Chewing on the gold chains dangling around his neck before serving, Zverev bit himself into a big hole earlier in the decider. Bungling a forehand volley from atop the net then double-faulting, Zverev faced triple break point in the third game.

Coach and former world No. 1 Juan Carlos Ferrero stood in Alcaraz’s support box and punched his palm signaling to his charge: the time is now.

Dancing on his toes, Alcaraz drew the error for his eighth break and a 2-1 lead.

The fourth seed was far from down, Zverev withstood a 20-shot rally coaxing a wild forehand error for triple break point in the fourth game.

Going all in on a gutsy second serve, Alcaraz’s second delivery was initially called wide. But chair umpire Lichtenstein quickly bounded out of his high seat, checked the mark and ruled it was an ace prompting protest from Zverev.

Though Hawk-Eye replay showed the ball landing millimeters wide, remember Hawk-Eye is not perfect either and players and chair umpires have debated for years whether a mark is actually touching the edge of the line.

Still, that reversal proved fatal for Zverev, who sometimes exhibits a Maria Sharapova-level of competence challenging calls yet, in this case, Hawk-Eye backed-up the Germa's claim.

"I mean, look, there's a difference whether you're down 3-1 in the fifth set or you're back to 2-All," Zverev said afterard. "That's a deciding difference. Yeah, it's frustrating in the end, but it is what it is.

"Umpires make mistakes. They're also human, and that's okay. But of course in a situation like that, you wish there wouldn't be mistakes."

That reversal sparked Alcaraz, who saved all three break points. In a circus-style point that followed, Alcaraz channeled Jimmy Connors vs. Paul Haarhuis deflecting back smash after smash until the German finally thumped a final smash winner for a fourth break point. Alcaraz denied it.

An ascendent Alcaraz actually smiled at stress then pulled off a pair of ridiculous backhand winners blasting a backhand down the line for break point before conjuring a backhand dropper slathered with backspin.

That tenacious stand put Alcaraz up 3-1 and incited a sing-song chant of “Carlos! Carlos! Carlos!” from French fans still buzzing by that electrifying stand.

Still, Zverev brought a storm of stress in the sixth game. Alcaraz pulled out the serve-and-volley winner—by then he had saved 17 of 23 break points—then defended with a lifeguard’s zeal holding for 4-2.

Summoning winners with stylish ease, Alcaraz was sliding well behind the baseline when he flicked a backhand pass that kissed the tape and floated by Zverev.

That intoxicating backhand brilliance brought fans to their feet and Zverev to his knees.

The German looked back at Alcaraz with a stupefied expression that screamed "checkmate" while facing triple break point.

Zapping a forehand winner down the line, Alcaraz broke at love for 5-2.

Embed from Getty Images

When Zverev’s final shot expired in net, Alcaraz fell flat on his back, savoring the suffering of the four hour, 19-minute fight and rising as a champion for all surfaces.


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