PARIS — Alexander Zverev, the No. 3 seed, returned to the semifinals of the French Open with a 6-4, 6-4, 4-6, 7-6 (7) victory over Carlos Alcaraz on Tuesday, ending the Spanish 19-year-old’s stirring run at Roland Claws.
Zverev, a 25-year-old German, also snuffed out Alcaraz’s rousing comeback in this quarterfinal. Zverev, beaten by Alcaraz in the Madrid Open final ahead of the French Open, was the most consistent and convincing player for nearly three sets. “I think letting him go ahead in the match and letting him get the confidence was going to be a very thing for me to come back from difficult,” Zverev said.
But Alcaraz, on the brink of being quickly eliminated, did lift his game. As usual, that was quite a sight, as he produced delicate drop shots, audacious returns, reflexive volleys and full-cut forehand winners that left the 6-foot-6 Zverev staring wistfully at the ball marks on the red clay court.
Alcaraz, like the top-seeded Novak Djokovic, is half tennis player, half gymnast. And with a flurry of brilliant and acrobatic tennis, Alcaraz, the No. 6 seed, took the third set. With another surge late in the fourth set, he broke Zverev’s serve when he was serving for the match at 5-4. This all-court duel, by this stage, was well worthy of a tiebreaker, and both men produced excellence under duress yet also cracked.
Alcaraz had a set point at 6-5 in the tiebreaker and failed to convert it when he made an unforced error with his backhand into the top of the net. Zverev missed a backhand of his own on his first match point during the tiebreaker.
It was now 7-7 and the chants of “Carlos, Carlos” were only getting louder. But Zverev, with the crowd and the flow against him, steeled himself, winning the next two points to close out the match. He finished off the victory with a bold backhand return winner down the line that Alcaraz, one of the quickest men in tennis, could not come close to reaching.
“It is one shot I like, it’s true,” Zverev said, grinning throughout his post-match news conference, which he started by raising both his arms in triumph.
“I’ve done it a lot in my career,” he said of his backhand return winner. “But I had to win the match myself, I felt I was going to either miss it by a country mile or hit a winner, and I hit a winner, which I’m quite pleased about.”
Alcaraz, in the midst of a breakthrough season, has still played in only four Grand Slam tournaments.
“I leave the court, leave the tournament with the head very high,” he said. “I fight until the last ball. I fought until the last second of the match, and I’m proud of it.”
But the best-of-five-set format remains another type of challenge than the best-of-three-set variety played on the regular tour. For now, Alcaraz’s best results in the majors are quarterfinal runs at the US Open last year and now in Paris.
“I didn’t start well, and in this level, quarterfinal of a Grand Slam, you are playing against the best players in the world, so you have to start the match better than I did today,” Alcaraz said. “I have to take the lesson. I mean, I have to improve to the next Grand Slam or next matches. But I would say I’m not far away to reach the semifinals or be able to win a Grand Slam.”
Zverev, a semifinalist at Roland Garros last year, clearly felt the odds were against him on Tuesday in light of Alcaraz’s recent results. Alcaraz had won the Barcelona and Madrid titles back-to-back on red clay and resumed rolling at Roland Garros after saving a match point against his Spanish compatriot Albert Ramos-Viñolas in the second round.
“I knew I had to play my absolutely best tennis today from the start, and I’m happy I did that,” Zverev said. “Obviously he kept on coming back. He’s an incredible player. I told him at the net, he’s going to win this tournament a lot of times, not only once, and I just hope I can win it before he starts beating us all, and we’ll have no chance at all.”
Zverev, despite his fine performance (and evident relief) on Tuesday, is still a long way from winning his first Grand Slam singles title. In the semifinals, he will face the winner of Tuesday’s second match: a night session between Djokovic and the fifth-seeded Rafael Nadal, who has won the French Open a record 13 times.
“It’s not really getting easier from here,” said Zverev, still looking delighted. “But I said a lot of times, I’m not 20 or 21 years old anymore; I’m 25. I am at the stage where I want to win, I’m at the stage where I’m supposed to win, as well.”