This year’s Roland-Garros men’s singles tournament had it all: great tennis, excitement aplenty, surprises galore and some familiar winners. With the dust having now settled following the king of clay’s return to his throne, we pick out the most outstanding matches from a Parisian fortnight to remember.
Roland-Garros 2022: the pick of the men’s singles matches
Roland-Garros 2022 came to a close on Sunday 5 June, with Rafael Nadal winning the men’s singles title for a 14th time. We look back at the most memorable matches of this year’s tournament.
The most emotional: Tsonga v Ruud (first round)
Having announced weeks before the tournament that it would be his last, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga brought the curtain down on his long-running love affair with tennis on an emotional afternoon. Drawn against the No. 8 seed and eventual runner-up Casper Ruud, the man from Le Mans earned the admiration of his home crowd one last time and then had them in tears. Though he went into the match as the underdog, a battling Jo kept his highly rated Norwegian opponent on the court for fully three hours 50 minutes and forced him to contest three tie-breaks before going down in four sets, 7-6(6) 6-7(4) 2-6 6-7(0). In the process, Tsonga rediscovered his serve, conceding not a single break in the first set, and his mighty forehand, the weapons that had once put him up there with the best in the world.
Cheered on by a Court Philippe-Chatrier that truly believed, Tsonga played some majestic tennis before his shoulder finally gave out on him. Injured and tearful, the rocklike Tsonga revealed his emotional side as he soaked up the applause of his adoring fans, who were only too aware they had seen one of France’s finest players hit his last shots on the big stage. Yielding some superb tennis and leaving barely a dry eye in the house, Tsonga’s farewell was one of the highlights of Roland-Garros 2022.
The most intense: Nadal v Djokovic (quarter-finals)
An encounter that was on the cards as soon as the draw was made, this latest meeting between Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic lived up to all expectations. On an electric night in the French capital, the greatest rivals in men’s singles tennis history, who had not met since their semi-final at Roland-Garros last year, played out a legendary 59th instalment of their symphonic rivalry – the 18th at a Grand Slam and the tenth on the clay of Paris. With Nadal’s foot injury and Djokovic’s on-off season forgotten for the evening, this was a Djokodal that served up the kind of breathtaking rallies and stunning winners that only these two giants of the game can produce.
Rafa made a high-octane start to take the first set 6-2 and then go two breaks up in the second at 3-0, only for Djoko to clamber back into contention on the back of some heroic defence and calculated risk-taking, the Serbian levelling it up at a set apiece after two hours 16 minutes. Though doubts remained about Nadal’s troublesome foot, he dispelled them all by shifting up a gear to claim the third set before halting his opponent’s charge to the fourth and winning the resulting tie-break to cap the best night match of the fortnight. Cheered to the rafters by an enraptured crowd, the Spaniard’s 6-2 4-6 6-2 7-6(4) win in four hours 12 minutes will go down as one of the finest ever encounters of this truly stellar rivalry.
The most unpredictable (and frustrating): Nadal v Zverev (semi-finals)
A phenomenal standard of play, an astounding tie-break and a succession of service breaks… How would the incredible semi-final between Rafael Nadal and Alexander Zverev have played out had the German not been forced to retire with Nadal a set up and the two locked at 6-6 in the second with nearly three hours on the clock already? Though that question can never be answered, the match will live long in the memories of those who saw it on account of the quality, unpredictability and sheer drama of the tennis.
At his brilliant and dominant best at times, and surprisingly flaky and error-prone at others, the now world No. 2 seemed to hold the upper hand for long periods against an opponent whose tactical intelligence and clever changes of pace kept him firmly in contention. Virtually unplayable at the start of the first-set tie-break, in which he surged into a 6-2 lead, the German finally cracked under the pressure, with two memorable passing shots helping the eventual champion to take it 8-6. A fabulous match then took a surreal turn in the second set as the two forced eight breaks in 12 games, one of them coming when Sascha coughed up three double-faults with the set at his mercy at 5-3.
With Nadal serving to take the second set into a tie-break, the entertainment came to an abrupt end, as Zverev turned over an ankle chasing down a forehand. Concern and sadness at his painful plight gave way to a warm and richly deserved ovation as the German hobbled back on to the court on crutches to salute the Chatrier crowd, undoubtedly one of the most impactful scenes of the whole tournament.
The most promising: Zverev v Alcaraz (quarter-finals)
Zverev was involved in another stunning encounter in the quarter-finals, against Carlos Alcaraz. Having impressed against Sebastian Korda and Karen Khachanov in earlier rounds, the Spaniard made a slow start, though credit for his error count should go to the rock-solid Zverev, who conceded just six points on his serve in the opening set. When the German swept into a two-set lead after one hour 34 matches, this eagerly awaited match was in danger of fizzling out. Alcaraz ensured that it didn’t. With the crowd right behind him, he began to find his range.
Up went the intensity levels over the next two sets, peaking when the Spaniard boldly earned himself one last reprieve as Zverev served for the match at 5-4 in the fourth. The tie-break that followed was tense in the extreme, as the two continued to produce some sublime tennis and the match hung in the balance. Though Alcaraz had the chance to take the match to even greater heights at 5-4 in the breaker, it was the more experienced of the two men who prevailed in a titanic three-hour-18-minute tussle, 6-4 6-4 4-6 7-6(7). On the basis of this evidence, the rivalry between these two young stars promises to be a legendary one.
The most exciting: Nadal v Auger-Aliassime (round of 16)
Though the sub-plot suggested this would be no ordinary round-of-16 encounter, Nadal and Auger-Aliassime made absolutely sure of that with some exceptional tennis. Watching on from the VIP box – until the fifth set at least – was Toni Nadal, who saw his nephew and his new protégé trade blows in a match more evenly contested than some predicted. Though the young Canadian had been delivering on his promise at tournament after tournament, given his first-round struggles against the qualifier Juan Pablo Varillas and the fact this was his first Grand Slam meeting against the king of clay there was reason to believe he might flounder. Dispelling those doubts, Auger-Aliassime made a fast start, pouncing on some uncharacteristically timid and imprecise play from Nadal to take the first set 6-3.
Promptly recovering his poise, the Spaniard was at his incisive, dominant best as he held off his determined opponent to take the next two sets. Just as his chance looked to have gone, the Canadian summoned up all his power, precision and mental strength to show how far he had come in 12 months by becoming only the third player to take Nadal to a fifth set at Roland-Garros, after John Isner in 2011 and Novak Djokovic in 2013.
With the score at 3-3 in what had been a thrillingly unpredictable decider, Nadal made his experience and genius count, never more effectively than when caressing a sliced backhand just over the net from deep and then charging in to flick the ball into the open court and force the decisive break. Beaten 3-6 6-3 6-2 3-6 6-3, the valiant Auger-Aliassime fully deserved the raucous applause that greeted his departure from the court.
And the best of the rest (because, let’s be honest, it was such a great tournament that selecting which games will live in the memory longest was no easy task):
The tightest: Cilic v Rublev (quarter-finals)
The biggest surprise: Rune v Tsitsipas (round of 16)
The most joyful: Gaston v De Minaur (first round)
The most unexpected: Simon v Carreño Busta (first round)
The most topsy-turvy: Ugo Carabelli v Karatsev (first round)