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Rafa exits Paris on a wave of emotion

After falling to a first-ever opening round defeat, legend Nadal bids the French Open crowd a tearful 'au revoir'

Updated: 2024-05-29 09:21
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Rafael Nadal and Alexander Zverev embrace at the net after their French Open match on Monday. AFP

Zverev's fast start

Zverev became the first man to defeat Nadal before the fourth round at Roland Garros.

"To be honest I don't know what to say," Zverev said on court after his win, before handing the mic to the Spanish legend. "First of all, thank you Rafa, from all of the tennis world. It's such a great honor. I've watched Rafa play all my childhood, and I was lucky enough to play Rafa when I became a pro, I was lucky enough to play him two times on this beautiful court."

"Today is not my moment, it's Rafa's moment," Zverev added.

Zverev started the match strongly, with a break to love in the opening game, going on to wrap up the first set with relative ease.

Nadal was much improved from his most recent outing, when he was well beaten by Hubert Hurkacz in the Rome second round, but failed to serve out the second set when leading 5-4.

Zverev then came out on top in a tense tie-break as a Nadal return found the net.

The Spaniard again broke first in the third set to lead 2-0, much to the delight of the 15,000 spectators in attendance, including Djokovic, Carlos Alcaraz, Swiatek and Manchester City soccer player Rodri.

But Zverev quickly hit back once more, before breaking for a 4-3 lead with a wonderful passing winner.

He secured victory on his first match point as Nadal blazed a forehand off target, potentially ending the most dominant career at a single event in Grand Slam history.

After Nadal missed a final shot on match point, Zverev gave a muted celebration out of respect for the 22-time major champion. They enjoyed a warm greeting at the net.

"The amount of feelings that I had on this amazing court during all my tennis career is just unbelievable," Nadal said. "I never dreamed I would be here at almost 38 years old, with all the success I had here, winning so many times — it is something that I never dreamed of.

"For me, it's difficult to say what will happen in the future. There's a high percentage that I won't be back at Roland Garros, but I can't say 100 percent. I enjoy playing here."

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