Alcaraz outlasts Zverev for first Roland-Garros crown

Spaniard adds Paris trophy to US Open and Wimbledon titles

Carlos Alcaraz, finale, Roland-Garros 2024 ©Corinne Dubreuil / FFT
 - Dan Imhoff

After Rafael Nadal rolled back onto the red clay as a Grand Slam champion in Paris for the third time 17 years ago, he matter-of-fact declared his dream was the product of working “very hard to be the best”.

Nadal has epitomised big-match mentality in Paris and his blueprint, especially among future Spanish aspirants, of the efforts required to rule the roost on the terre battue in the French capital has become legendary.

Spain did not have to wait long to crown their next Roland-Garros champion after Carlos Alcaraz on Sunday denied Germany’s Alexander Zverev for his third Grand Slam trophy, two years after Nadal’s 14th.

Humble and diligent like his idol, Alcaraz rolled onto the terracotta dirt, battle-weary in triumph after he secured his third major title, 6-3, 2-6, 5-7, 6-1, 6-2.

“Since I was a little kid finishing school running just to put the TV on to watch this tournament and now I’m lifting the trophy in front of all of you,” Alcaraz said. “It’s been unbelievable the support I receive. I feel like home.”

Unlike the southpaw whose first three championships all came on Court Philippe-Chatrier, Alcaraz achieved the feat across a third different major.

In doing so at 21 years and one month old, he displaced his countryman as the youngest man to triumph in a major final on three different surfaces, which Nadal accomplished 18 months older at the 2009 Australian Open.

“Third Grand Slam, 21 years old, it’s incredible,” Zverev said. “You won three different ones. It’s an amazing career already. You’re already a Hall of Famer and you’ve already achieved so much.

“To my team, thanks for the last two weeks and the long journey we’ve had since the injury on this court. We were close today but not enough. Hopefully one day we’ll be able to hold this trophy together.”

The last time the pair met at a major in the quarter-finals of this year’s Australian Open, Zverev only dropped serve twice on his way to a four-set victory.

He was broken as many times in just the first five games on Sunday and Alcaraz grabbed another for good measure after he rolled a savagely angled forehand crosscourt to claim the first set in 43 minutes.

There was no great cause for alarm in the Zverev camp just yet. The fourth seed, who was riding a 12-match winning streak following his Rome Masters title, had already weathered the storm from a set down in three of his six matches en route, including against last year’s finalist Casper Ruud in the semi-finals.

Emboldened and boasting greater intensity with an early break in hand in the second set, Zverev began to step into his groundstrokes and found more venom on his often less-potent forehand as he squared the match after 96 minutes.

As the battle neared the two-hour mark, the Spaniard topped up on pickle juice keen to ward off cramps and mindful this was an arm wrestle that could well go the distance.

It appeared to help momentarily when he broke for 4-2 and served for the set two games later, but his charge suddenly hit a snag.

Increasingly erratic mishit forehands dented his cause and the German, against the flow, reeled off five straight games for a two-sets-to-one advantage.

Carlos Alcaraz, men's final, Roland-Garros 2024©️Jean-Charles Caslot / FFT

Alcaraz had surged back from a similar position in his semi-final against Australian Open champion Jannik Sinner and admitted he had to “enjoy the suffering”.

He needed to do more of the same if he was to survive successive five-set battles for the first time.

No sooner had he opened up a 4-1 lead than he required treatment for a left groin complaint, but it did nothing to halt his push into a deciding set.

Alcaraz whipped the crowd into a frenzy after a drop shot consolidated a break for 3-1 and the match was all but on his racquet after he flicked a single-handed backhand pass on his way to the double break.

After four hours and 19 minutes, victory was his and he joined his coach, Juan Carlos Ferrero, as a Roland-Garros champion, a momentous victory considering the right arm injury he had juggled leading in.

“It’s been incredible work the last month. We were struggling a lot with the injury,” Alcaraz said. “Coming back to Madrid, I didn’t feel well and then the next weeks with a lot of doubts coming here, not practising too many hours on the court.

“I’m really grateful to have the team that I have. I know that everyone in my team is giving their heart to make me improve as a player and as a person so I’m really grateful and I call you a team but it’s a family.”

In the first men’s final in Paris in 20 years that did not feature any of the ‘Big Three’ of Nadal, Novak Djokovic or Roger Federer, Alcaraz served a reminder that when fully fit and firing he is the prime candidate to lead the current crop.

It is a daunting prospect for all comers. Just the seventh man in the Open era and the first since Stan Wawrinka at the 2016 US Open to land a Grand Slam title at three different majors, at 21 years old, the Spaniard has barely begun.