French Open 2024: Rafael Nadal beaten by Alexander Zverev in first round on potential Roland Garros farewell

Rafael Nadal was handed a nightmare first-round draw (AFP via Getty Images)
Rafael Nadal was handed a nightmare first-round draw (AFP via Getty Images)

Rafael Nadal suffered a first-round exit on what could prove to be his final French Open appearance, as he was beaten in straight sets by Alexander Zverev.

Novak Djokovic, Carlos Alcaraz and Iga Swiatek were among those in the stands for a blockbuster first-round clash, with a partisan crowd under the Philippe Chatrier roof not enough to drag Nadal to victory.

The 37-year-old was competitive throughout and showed glimpses of his very best, but Zverev proved too strong as he battled to a 6-3 7-6 6-3 victory in just over three hours.

Nadal, a 14-time champion at Roland Garros, was unseeded in Paris, due to his long spells away from the court with injury issues, and it left him vulnerable to a nightmare draw, up against Zverev. The fourth seed arrived in Paris after winning the Italian Open, and he is one of the favourites to go all the way and secure a first Grand Slam title.

Zverev is just the third player to ever beat Nadal in Roland Garros, joining Robin Soderling and Novak Djokovic in a very exclusive club.

Nadal, who has a 112-4 record at the tournament, is expected to return to Paris later this summer, to represent Spain at the Olympics. He has suggested this will be his final year on tour before he retires, but has not yet ruled out the possibility of competing at Roland Garros in 2025.

He said on court after defeat to Zverev: "It’s difficult for me to talk. I don’t know if it’s going to be the last time for me to be here, in front of you. Honestly, I am not 100% sure.

“But if it is the last time, I enjoyed it. The crowd have been amazing during the whole week of preparations and today. The feeling that I have today are difficult to describe in words. It’s so special to feel the love of the people in the place that I love the most.

“It is a big percentage this was my last match at Roland Garros but I cannot say for sure. I am enjoying travelling with my family. My body is feeling good. Maybe I two months I say it’s enough, I can’t give more. But I hope to be back on this court for the Olympics. That’s another chance. I hope to be prepared.”

Nadal was broken in the opening game of the match by Zverev and was never able to get back on terms in the opening set, with the German in ruthless form on serve to maintain his advantage and then break again to take his third set point.

Rafael Nadal attracted huge crowds for his practice sessions ahead of the tournament (Getty Images)
Rafael Nadal attracted huge crowds for his practice sessions ahead of the tournament (Getty Images)

The Spaniard increasingly found his feet, though, flattening out the trademark forehand and stepping up the aggression, and he broke to lead 3-2 in the second. Nadal could not, however serve it out, broken to love by Zverev for 5-5, and it went to what always felt like a pivotal tie-break.

Zverev took it, Nadal shaking his head in frustration after a couple of poor drop shots, and a double fault then handed Zverev two break points in the first game of the third set.

Nadal, as ever, was in no mood for rolling over and held firm to hold, following it up with a break of his own as he sent a forehand winner searing down the line.

Zverev’s response was as immediate as it was impressive, breaking straight back to get it on serve again, and he landed the crucial blow in the seventh game of the set, a stunning backhand winner met with frustrated silence in the stands as he took a 4-3 lead.

Nadal could not take two break points in the following game and the end was near, the Spaniard dropping serve when attempting to prolong the match as Zverev ended his tournament and, potentially, his French Open career.