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Alcaraz downs Zverev in see-saw epic for Paris glory

3 minute read

Carlos Alcaraz has won an exhausting, see-sawing contest on the Roland Garros clay against Alexander Zverev to become French Open champion at just 21.

Carlos Alcaraz.
Carlos Alcaraz. Picture: AAP Image

Make some room Rafa -- there's a new Spanish 'King of Clay' on the Roland Garros throne now.

The incredible Carlos Alcaraz is the new darling of Chatrier courtiers, achieving another tennis milestone at the tender age of just 21, outlasting Alexander Zverev over five exhausting, absorbing sets to become French Open men's singles champion in Paris on Sunday.

The young Spaniard proved too strong, too aggressive and was ultimately infused with too much self-belief for even the battling Zverev to cope with as he fought back to down the German Olympic champion 6-3 2-6 5-7 6-1 6-2 in a final full of see-sawing drama over four hours 19 minutes.

Alcaraz now has three grand slams, after his Wimbledon title last year and his US Open triumph in 2022, keeping up his perfect record in major finals - but he reckoned this one was his proudest after his recent injury woes with his racquet forearm.

"Probably this is the moment I'm really proud about, because of everything I've done the last month just to be ready for this tournament. It has been really difficult for me, honestly," he said.

So the tournament that began with the 14-time champion Nadal being knocked out by Zverev in the opening round has ended with the symmetry of Alcaraz, on a sunny but breezy day on Court Philippe Chatrier, defeating his conqueror to become the eighth Spanish men's winner.

At the post-match ceremony, the 27-year-old Zverev, still searching for that elusive first slam, looked at the new champ and marvelled: "It's incredible, you won three different ones, you're already a hall-of-famer, you've achieved so much already and you're only 21."

Indeed. Anything now seems possible for Alcaraz, who has now eclipsed Nadal as the youngest man ever to win slams on three surfaces. His great predecessor was about 18 months older when he completed the treble.

Yet what may yet prove most discouraging to all Alcaraz's rivals is how the youngster, who'll move back to No.2 in the world next week, emerged even stronger when seemingly in a world of trouble as a 5-2 lead in the third set disappeared only for Zverev to take apparent control.

You see, he has heart as well as stupendous talent; there's no escape from Alcaraz.

Altogether he hit 52 winners to Zverev's 38, while also making more unforced errors, 56 to the German's 41. That told the story of Alcaraz being the more determined to gamble, to go for broke.

There's also the added X-factor in Alcaraz's game, the blinding moments of shotmaking genius on show occasionally on Sunday that set him apart, putting him even ahead of the game's new world No.1 Jannik Sinner as the most exciting player out there.

Alcaraz had withdrawn from Monte Carlo and Barcelona due to his arm injury, and also skipped the Italian Open, but he had the strength and heart to finish quite spectacularly, taking 12 of the last 15 games even as he battled physical issues of his own, with his left leg having to be treated by trainers at changeovers.

It felt like a towering triumph - so much so indeed that Alcaraz vowed to have a tattoo of the Eiffel Tower, complete with the date of victory, imprinted on his left ankle to go alongside the inky tributes to his previous two wins.

"Wimbledon was the right one. Here it's going to be the left one, I think," he mused. At this rate, he's going to end up looking like the Illustrated Man.

One picture summed up his big day. It was Alcaraz plunging on to his back after winning the final point, only to finally re-emerge tearfully with his shirt caked in clay.

Who did that remind everyone of, irresistibly? Only Rafa revisited.

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