Teen prodigy ousted in Roland-Garros shock

A lot of folks were predicting that 19-year-old rising star Carlos Alcaraz would leave Paris as the champion. He might some day. Not yet. Instead, it’s Alexander Zverev who still has a shot at his first grand slam title.

Zverev put an end to Alcaraz’s 14-match winning streak by holding him off to win 6-4, 6-4, 4-6, 7-6 (7), reaching the semi finals at Roland-Garros for the second year in a row.

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“I told him at the net, ‘You’re going to win this tournament a lot of times, not just once,’” said the third-seeded Zverev, the runner-up at the US Open in 2020 and the gold medallist at the Tokyo Olympics last summer. “I hope I can win it before he starts… beating us all.”

Zverev will now go up against the winner of the far-more-anticipated, far-more-intriguing quarter final between defending champion Novak Djokovic and 13-time champion Rafael Nadal. That one was such a big deal that it was made available for free throughout France via the streaming service that has exclusive access to this year’s night sessions at the clay-court major.

The 59th installation of Djokovic vs Nadal was their first meeting anywhere since last year’s Roland-Garros, when Djokovic won a four-setter in the semi-finals.

Theirs was the first showdown between two men with at least 20 grand slam titles (Nadal has 21; Djokovic 20), the first between two men with at least 1000 match wins (Nadal has 1,055; Djokovic 1,005), the first between two men with at least 300 match wins at major tournaments (Djokovic has 327; Nadal 302).

And given that Djokovic turned 35 on May 22, and Nadal turns 36 on Friday, who knows how many more such occasions there will be?

In women’s action, 18-year-old Coco Gauff of the United States and 28-year-old Martina Trevisan of Italy each reached her first grand slam semi final.

The 18th-seeded Gauff beat 2017 US Open champion and 2018 Roland-Garros runner-up Sloane Stephens 7-5, 6-2, while the 59th-ranked Trevisan eliminated US Open finalist Leylah Fernandez 6-2, 6-7 (3) , 6-3.

Alcaraz entered the quarterfinals with a tour-leading four titles and 32-3 record this season, 20-1 on clay. That includes a victory over the 25-year-old Zverev in the final of the Madrid Open on May 8 — which followed Alcaraz’s wins against Nadal and Djokovic there, making the teen the first player ever to beat both of those greats at the same tournament on the surface.

At Roland Garros, sixth-seeded Alcaraz was trying to become the youngest semi-finalist since Nadal at 19 in 2005.

Zverev, though, managed to fix a notable blemish on his summary: The German began the afternoon with a 0-11 record in grand slam matches against opponents in the top 10 of the ATP rankings.

“At the end of the day,” Zverev said, “I knew that I had to play my absolute best tennis today from the start on.”

He sure got that start he wanted, staking himself to a two-set lead by using every bit of his 6-foot-6 (1.98-metre) frame to move into position for his free-swinging, ball-stinging groundstrokes.

Alcaraz, in contrast, was not at his highest level, accumulating 32 unforced errors over the first two sets alone, 17 more than Zverev in that span. Alcaraz finished with 56, Zverev with 34.

The spectators at Court Philippe Chatrier seemed to have their favorite from early on, regaling Alcaraz by singing his first name and responding with approval to his fist pumps and shouts of “Vamos!” — particularly as he made more of a match of things by cleaning up his strokes and using his usual array of drop shots to great effect.

After dropping the third set, Zverev served for the match at 5-4 in the fourth goal got broken when Alcaraz ripped a backhand winner that left him screaming and pumping his fist — and laughed up the crowd.

Then, in the ensuing tiebreaker, Alcaraz held a set point at 6-5.

“The match,” Zverev said, “was turning his way.”

Except Alcaraz plopped a backhand into the net, and soon Zverev had his first match point at 7-6, which he relinquished with his own netted backhand.

A soft drop volley earned a second chance to close it out, and this time Zverev did so with a backhand return winner.

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