Carlos Alcaraz rallies to defeat Alexander Zverev for first French Open title in five-set thriller

PARIS — Carlos Alcaraz won his first French Open championship and third Grand Slam title by coming back to defeat Alexander Zverev 6-3, 2-6, 5-7, 6-1, 6-2 on Sunday.

Alcaraz is a 21-year-old from Spain who grew up watching countryman Rafael Nadal win trophy after trophy at Roland Garros — a record 14 in all — and now has eclipsed Nadal as the youngest man to collect major championships on three surfaces. Nadal was about 1½ years older when he did it.

Sunday’s victory allowed Alcaraz to add the clay-court championship at Roland Garros to his triumphs on hard courts at the U.S. Open in 2022 and on grass at Wimbledon in 2023.

Alcaraz is now 3-0 in Grand Slam finals.

Carlos Alcaraz reacts after winning the 2024 French Open on Sunday. AFP via Getty Images

Carlos Alcaraz celebrates after winning the 2024 French Open on Sunday. AP

“You’re already a Hall of Famer and you already achieved so much,” said Zverev, who dropped to 0-2 in major title matches. “Not the last time you’re going to win this.”

Zverev, a 27-year-old from Germany, was the runner-up at the 2020 U.S. Open after blowing a two-set lead against Dominic Thiem.

This time, Zverev lost after surging in front by reeling off the last five games of the third set. Alcaraz’s level dipped during that stretch and he seemed distracted by a complaint over the condition of the clay at Court Philippe Chatrier, telling chair umpire Renaud Lichtenstein it was “unbelievable.”

But Alcaraz reset himself and surged to the finish, taking 12 of the last 15 games while being treated by a trainer at changeovers for an issue with his left leg.

No. 3 Alcaraz and No. 4 Zverev were making their first appearance in a French Open final. Indeed, this was the first men’s title match at Roland Garros since 2004 without Nadal, Novak Djokovic or Roger Federer.

Carlos Alcaraz kisses the trophy after winning the 2024 French Open on Sunday. Getty Images

Nadal lost to Zverev in the first round two weeks ago; Djokovic, a three-time champion, withdrew before the quarterfinals with a knee injury that required surgery; Federer is retired.

There were some jitters at the outset. Zverev started the proceedings with a pair of double-faults — walking to the sideline to change rackets after the second, as though the equipment was the culprit — and eventually got broken. Alcaraz lost serve immediately, too, framing a forehand that sent the ball into the stands — which he would do on a handful of occasions — and double-faulting, trying a so-so drop shot that led to an easy winner for Zverev, then missing a backhand.

Let’s just say they won’t be putting those initial 10 minutes in the Louvre. A lot of the 4-hour, 19-minute match was patchy, littered with unforced errors.

Alcaraz managed to come out strong in the fourth set, grabbing 16 of the first 21 points to move out to a 4-0 edge, including one brilliant, sliding, down-the-line forehand passing winner that he celebrated by thrusting his right index finger overhead in a “No. 1” sign, then throwing an uppercut while screaming, “Vamos!”

No, he is not ranked No. 1 at the moment — Jannik Sinner makes his debut at the top spot on Monday — but he has been before and, although a “2” will be beside Alcaraz’s name next week, there is little doubt that he is as good as it gets in men’s tennis right now.

Alexander Zverev reacts during his French Open loss on Sunday. Getty Images

Like on Sunday, Alcaraz overturned a deficit of two sets to one in the semifinals against Sinner, making him the first man to capture the French Open by doing that since Manolo Santana — also from Spain — pulled off the trick in 1961.

Returning serves from way back, before moving close to the baseline as points progressed, Alcaraz showed off his full, varied repertoire. The drop shots, the artful half-volleys, the intimidating forehands delivered aggressively and accompanied by a loud, one-syllable grunt that sounded like “Eh!” at times and “Uh!” at others. He finished with 27 forehand winners, 20 more than Zverev.

In the fifth set, under constant pressure from Alcaraz, Zverev played a poor game that included two miscues plus a double-fault, helping Alcaraz move in front at 2-1. The next game was pivotal and showed the grit and gumption that already have become hallmarks of Alcaraz’s style.

Zverev — who argued about one line call in that game, saying, “There’s no way!” — would hold a total of four break points. He failed to convert any. Alcaraz didn’t let him. After dismissing those chances, Alcaraz wrapped up the game to lead 3-1 with a drop-shot winner.

The crowd roared. Alcaraz held his left index finger to his ear while waving his racket and nodding, seeking even more noise. It arrived. He would break again for 5-2, then served it out and dropped onto his back, caking his shirt with clay — just as Nadal often did after championship point.

Alcaraz first learned to play tennis on the rust-colored slow surface, although he says he prefers hard courts. He grew up running home from school at this time of year to watch on TV as Nadal competed in Paris. Alcaraz says he dreamed back then of adding his own name to the list of Spanish men to win the event, including 2003 champion Juan Carlos Ferrero, Alcaraz’s coach.

And those red-and-yellow Spanish flags that became such an annual fixture at Chatrier in the era of Nadal were there again Sunday, this time to support Alcaraz. The difference? The cries that once were for “Ra-fa! Ra-fa!” are now for “Car-los! Car-los!”

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