Rafael Nadal could skip Wimbledon after emotional first round French Open exit to Alex Zverev

Nadal out of French Open
Rafael Nadel lost in the first round of Roland Garros for the first time - AFP/Alain Jocard

Rafael Nadal is likely to skip Wimbledon as he rebounds from Monday’s straight-sets loss at the French Open and focuses on the upcoming Olympic Games.

The Olympics will be played on these same clay courts at Roland Garros in two months’ time, giving Nadal a realistic shot at a medal. He plans to partner reigning Wimbledon champion Carlos Alcaraz in a potentially world-beating doubles team.

Asked whether he intends to compete at Wimbledon, Nadal replied “Looks difficult, honestly. I need to talk with team. But I don’t think it’s going to be smart after all the things that happened to my body [to] now make a big transition to a completely different surface and then come back immediately to clay, no?”

Nadal was speaking after what was only his fourth loss in 19 tilts at the French Open title. His 112-4 record at this tournament, which will remain the final count if he decides to retire later this summer, will go down as one of the most extraordinary achievements in sport.

He put on a real show for the fans on Court Philippe Chatrier, despite suffering a 6-3, 7-6, 6-3 loss to world No.4 Alexander Zverev.

“I played I think at a good level in all ways, comparing to the way that I was playing the weeks before,” Nadal said. “So, happy for that. Of course disappointed for losing, but in terms of body feelings, happy that I finish healthy, you know, and I had a tough battle out there. And I was ready for a little bit more.

“So that’s it. Accept the moment. If it’s the last time that I played here, I am in peace with myself. I tried everything to be ready for this tournament for almost 20 years. And today and the last two years I have been working and going through probably the toughest process in my tennis career with the dream to come back here, no? At least I did. I mean, I lost, but that’s part of the business.”

In a competitive display that lasted three hours and five minutes, Nadal showed plenty of the strokes that made him the King of Clay: the booming forehand, the delicate drop shots, and the decisive touches at the net, all complemented by his trademark “start the lawnmower” celebrations.

He would probably have beaten most opponents in this form, but Zverev – who is the fourth favourite here after winning the most recent tour event in Rome – represented a brutal first-round draw.

Zverev’s serve has been the best in the game of late, and the showery weather also worked in his favour. With the roof closing over Court Philippe Chatrier, there was not a breath of wind to disrupt his ball-toss, and he capitalised by landing a mighty 78 per cent of first serves.

Alexander Zverev consoles Rafael Nadal after his French Open defeat
Alexander Zverev was also emotional after becoming just the third player to beat Nadal at the French Open - Shutterstock/Yoan Valat

If there was a sour note to this absorbing match, it was that Nadal should have fallen to one of the game’s most divisive figures. In Berlin in Friday, a court will consider Zverev’s defence against claims of domestic abuse levelled by his former girlfriend Brenda Patea, although Zverev has not been required to attend in person.

As Zverev gave a respectful verbal tribute to Nadal at the finish of the match, a voice from the stands could be heard shouting “The trial, the trial!”

Nadal then took the microphone. His family, especially his sister Maria Isabel, wept openly as he gave his own emotional post-match speech, thanking the fans and the people behind the scenes “from the bottom of my heart”.

The prospect that he might not return to the French Open brought a starry cast of spectators to the stands: not only Manchester City midfielder Rhodri but also title contenders Alcaraz, Novak Djokovic and Iga Swiatek.

Iga Swiatek and Novak Djokovic in the stands
Iga Swiatek (bottom left) and Novak Djokovic (standing up with the blue top) were just two famous faces from the tennis world watching what could prove to be Nadal's final French Open appearance - AP/Jean-Francois Badias

“I didn’t see them, but I think in some way it’s normal, no?” said Nadal after the match. “If I know that Novak is the last time playing in Wimbledon or in Australia and I was there, or young players like Carlos that probably they watch me on TV most of his years, it’s normal that they are interested to see.

“I mean, happy that that happens, you know, because that means that I had a positive legacy, no?”

But is this really Nadal’s final Roland Garros? He stopped short of saying so, explaining that he would re-examine his prospects later in the summer. “My mindset was ready till Olympics, and then I need to check how I feel in different ways. I mean, in terms of personal motivation, body feelings, and then in terms of level of tennis [if] it make sense to keep playing.”

Asked if he would be able to manage the Olympic schedule, which involves playing every day without a rest day in between, he replied “I cannot tell you, because my body have been a jungle for two years. I wake up one day and I found a snake biting me. Another day a tiger. You know, have been a big fighting with all the things that I went through, no? But the dynamic is positive the last few weeks, no?

Zverev becomes third player to beat Nadal at French Open – as it happened

06:15 PM BST

A fighting performance then

from one of the sport’s all-time greats. No definitive retirement announcement so we will have to wait and see, but Rafael Nadal won’t be adding the 2024 French Open to his astonishing roll of honour here. Alex Zverev might well do, though: he looks in fine form and he came through the mental test of this impressively. He’s available at about 9/2 in an open betting field: Alcaraz the fav at 2/1, Sinner 3/1, Novak fours. Please join us throughout the tournament for further live blogs. Cheers.

05:54 PM BST

Key stats

Zverev landed a highly impressive 78% of his first serve, the bedrock of his victory and comparing favourably with Nadal’s 69%. Of that 78%, he won 71% of them and that smells like victory to me. Nadal’s second serve: he only won 50% of points on that, probably going some way to explaining why AZ got 18 break point opportunities. Converted six of them, failed on 12, which you could attribute to Nadal’s x-factor/will/legend. But in all honesty, Zverev looked the most likely winner from game one.

The moment was at 5-4 to Nadal in the second with Nadal serving for the set but Zverev found another level and broke him to love.

05:31 PM BST

Nadal post-match interview

“It is incredible, I want to say thank you. It is difficult for me to talk. I am not 100% sure if this is going to be the last time I am in front of you. The feelings I have today are hard to describe. To feel the love in the place I love the most. I have to congratulate Sascha for this great match. I know 2022 (???) has been a super tough moment for you and so I wish you the best.”

“I have been going through a tough moment, so many injuries but I went through it to get back here. I had my chances but it was not enough against a great player. There is a big chance I won’t be back but I can’t say 100%. My body is feeling better than two months ago. Maybe in two months I say it is enough but I don’t feel it yet. I hope to be back on this court for the Olympics. I have amazing feelings on this court, I never dreamed as a kid I would be here at 28. Sorry, 38. I would love to be 28! All the memories have been different, so special. Support has been unforgettable. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.”

05:28 PM BST

Zverev wins three sets to love

But I think it is fair to say that the focus is on his opponent.

Zverev post match interview: “Thank you Rafa from all of the tennis world. It is such a great honour. I have watched him all my childhood I have been lucky enough to play him, and twice on this beautiful court. Today is not my moment it is Rafa’s moment and I am not going to speak much.”

05:26 PM BST

Nadal* 3-6 6-7 3-6 Zverev

Nadal, who has won 91 points to his opponents 109, serves at 0-30 in what might likely be his last ever game on the court he has made his own. Some brilliant and dogged defence from Nadal but Zverev is all over him and eventually crunches a crosscourt winner past him.

Nadal, the 14 time champion, serves at 15-40. He puts a groundstroke long and that is game, set and match Zverev as one of the great sporting dynasties ends, or possibly ends. Hard to think of a player in any sport who has so dominated a venue.

05:24 PM BST

Nadal* 3-6 6-7 3-5 Zverev

AZ shores up the break and it’s do or die now for Rafa Nadal.

05:18 PM BST

Nadal 3-6 6-7 3-4 Zverev*

Is that the fatal blow? You never write off Nadal, but this break from Zverev may prove a bridge too far. A double fault doesn’t help the cause.

05:12 PM BST

Nadal* 3-6 6-7 3-3 Zverev

Zverev with the hold for 3-3.

05:02 PM BST

Nadal 3-6 6-7 2-3 Zverev*

It’s a third deuce. Both men seem to sense that this game might be the end of it if Zverev can break. He’s the one turning the screw, it feels like the great Spaniard is clinging on. Facing break point, Rafa produces an ace and the crowd roar.

11 minutes in, and Rafa finally holds it. What a battler.

05:00 PM BST

Indeed you do

Nobody else is gonna do it for ya. Both well worth a read. Back to the match then, where Rafa is serving at 2-2 in what feels like a crucial game...

04:59 PM BST

Two very fine pieces by Simon

Another famous face behind the court: Iga Swiatek, although I think she might have nipped out again now. I’m sure someone wrote a piece about how Nadal is the most respected and admired figure in the modern game, at least among his peers.

Oh and possibly another piece on why Swiatek is the player most likely to continue his legacy.

Well, you’ve got to bang your own drum every now and then, haven’t you?

04:52 PM BST

Nadal* 3-6 6-7 2-2 Zverev

Zverev, serving at 40-40, fighting hard. An error from Rafa, hitting a groundstroke into the net. Now Rafa Nadal returns long, Zverev holds and it is 2-2.

04:47 PM BST

Nadal 3-6 6-7 1-2 Zverev*

Ah shame. He’s broken right back by Zverev who, to be fair to him, is playing an extremely professional match in difficult circs.

04:35 PM BST

Nadal* 3-6 6-7 2-0 Zverev

Big chances for Rafa as he races into a 0-40 lead here. But fair play to Zverev for two beefy serves - but Rafa will not be denied and he has scored an early break.

04:29 PM BST

Nadal 3-6 6-7 1-0 Zverev*

Magnificent from Nadal at 15-40. The accuracy, the variety, the intelligence. A long rally but sealed with an artist’s touch. Wins the next one as well and it’s deuce. Holds serve with real heart.

04:26 PM BST

Among the spectators

Serbia's Novak Djokovic, center right with blue sweater and white cap
Serbia's Novak Djokovic, center right with blue sweater and white cap - AP

04:23 PM BST

Zverev wins the second set tie-break

It was 7-5 in the end. Close, but Zverev always had his nose just in front.

04:11 PM BST

Second set tie break (Zverev score first)

Zverev, serving first, wins the point after a long, punishing and high quality rally that ends with Nadal floating a slice out. 1-0

Nadal to the net, and the Spanish man seals a dominant point. 1-1

Nadal, maybe over-aggressive, puts a forehand wide from the centre of the baseline. 2-1

But Zverev, on top in the next point, tightens and fires wide when he should have done better. 2-2

Zverev wins the next point, always on top in that one. Needs a second smash to finalise it. 3-2

Nadal takes the next point and gives himself a rub down with a towel. 3-3

Nadal serve. Real quality from Zverev here after Nadal somehow runs down an overhead, but AZ shows excellent composure to seal the point with a low volley. 4-3 with a mini-break.

Zverev consolidates that. 5-3

But Nadal, battling as hard as ever, stays alive at 5-4

Zverev wins a ten-shot rally and it is 6-4

Lovely drop shot from Rafa. 6-5

But A punishing serve from Zverev is unreturnable, and that is the second set 7-5 on the breaker.

04:10 PM BST

Nadal 3-6 6-6 Zverev*

Nadal holds with real authority to set up a tie break.

Simon Briggs: “Zverev overcame his own wobbles impressively there, living off that massive and relentless serve. Even if Rafa can still take this set on a tie-break, it’s so much work for a guy not well conditioned to matchplay right now. Shout out for the brass band and their ‘Eye of the Tiger’.”

04:02 PM BST

Game 11

Serving at 15-30, Zverev picks an inopportune moment for a double fault. But an ace helps him back to 40-40 and he wins he game to compel Nadal to serve.

03:59 PM BST

Nadal 3-6 5-5 Zverev*

Brutal. Zverev breaks the Nadal serve to love and the crowd are rocked.

03:56 PM BST

Nadal* 3-6 5-4 Zverev

Zverev holds his serve and Nadal will now serve to win the set. Think most people were predicting Zverev to put the great man away in straight sets and if this does get to 1-1, with the vibe Nadal is generating on court, well I’d say all bets are off.....

03:50 PM BST

Nadal 3-6 5-3 Zverev*

Nadal serving. 15-30. Zverev with a wonderful hit on the run, surely thinks he has passed his man but Nadal produces a lovely pick up low shot to win the point. Gossamer touch at the net now from Rafa, his short game has been flawless today, winning nine points out of nine at the net. At 40-30, Zverev has the court and point at his command but flaps the ball into the net.

03:47 PM BST

Nadal* 3-6 4-3 Zverev

That is the hold Zverev needed. Commanding, energy surpressing.

03:42 PM BST

Nadal 3-6 4-2 Zverev*

Rafa is starting to happen, he’s trying things that are working, the crowd are cheering his every move. Battle now for AZ is not so much the technical but the emotional side of the contest. Nadal holds.

Zverev needs a few steely serves, quieten the energy.

03:37 PM BST

Nadal* 3-6 3-2 Zverev

Hint of a sniff of a chance as Zverev serves at 30-30. RN takes the initiative, he knows that he has to swing for the fences here, Zverev on the back foot and he makes an error into the net. 30-40. Nadal gets the serve back and it creeps in.... Zverev unsettled, loses his timing, a poor shot, and Nadal wins the point with a drop shot! Nadal with a break of serve!

That’s what I was saying about Rafa getting into Zverev’s head. The huge celebration after saving break points brought the crowd to life. And then the Zverev forehand - always his shakier side - began to show a few cracks, leading to Nadal’s first break of serve. Fans having a ball now. Although I should say they have been pretty sporting. Big applause for a Zverev forehand winner in the last game. I’ve been at Djokovic-Federer matches in New York where Djokovic hits a winner and there’s tumbleweed

03:33 PM BST

Nadal 3-6 2-2 Zverev*

Nadal serve under real pressure here but he just about holds on. Crowd roaring him on now as he produces an ace at 30-40. Gets out of jail.

03:29 PM BST

Nadal* 3-6 2-1 Zverev

A brace of aces in this Zverev hold.

03:24 PM BST


Some sporting royalty spotted in the crowd. Not just Manchester City’s Rodri but two of the favourites for this title: Novak Djokovic and Carlos Alcaraz. They clearly think it might be Nadal’s French Open finale, even if he isn’t sure.

03:23 PM BST

Nadal 3-6 1-1 Zverev*

Nadal with a determined hold in the second game, however. His cause helped by Zverev bungling a regulation overhead shot. Excellent point from Nadal at 40-0! Dogged defence into insisting ground strokes, then he picks a drop shot early, gets there, and puts it away for a winner. Fist pump and a roar!

Nadal fighting
Nadal fighting - AFP

03:20 PM BST

Nadal* 3-6 0-1 Zverev

Zverev will be looking to go up a gear here and break the back of the match early in the second set. A dominant service hold sends him onwards.

03:18 PM BST

A decent spectacle, if not a beautiful one

In his pre-tournament press conference, Nadal said “If, in the bottom of my heart, I don’t have any hope to have success here and to create a beautiful thing this year, I will not be here in front of you guys.”

I’m not sure this match has been “beautiful” thus far but it’s warmed up into a decent spectacle. And, crucially, not one that embarrasses Nadal (although he has just walked off court for an early bathroom break). Certainly better than his most recent outing in Rome, a 6-1, 6-3 humbling at the hands of Hubert Hurkacz.

The critical stat so far is surely Zverev’s 78 per cent first serves in.

03:07 PM BST

Nadal 3-6 Zverev*

It’s deuce. Reaching for a crosscourt, Nadal finds the net. It’s set point to the German. RN takes charge of the rally with hard, flat, aggressive groundstrokes and forces an error. A second deuce. But eventually Zverev wins the game and Zverev wins the first set.

Zverev wins first set 6-3, breaking Nadal in the first game and the ninth game of the opener. Nadal only got 58% of his first serves in.

03:02 PM BST

Nadal* 3-5 Zverev

Another hold from Zverev takes him to within a game of the first set.

02:57 PM BST

Nadal 3-4 Zverev*

Nadal holds. He looks like he is enjoying himself. He’s moving Zverev around the court a bit more and he’s getting into it. No doubt as to where the crowd’s affections lie, and correctly so: Nadal, a legend, a gent. Zverev, well the less said the better.

02:56 PM BST

Nadal* 2-4 Zverev

Zverev’s turn to hold his serve to love. Here’s more from Briggsy:

“Zverev really settling to his work now, and hitting at an average of 83mph off both wings. Nadal way behind on 72 for his forehand and 74 for his backhand. That’s a little misleading in a way, because his forehand has a spin-laden heaviness to it which makes the ball harder to deal with, even if it’s not as quick through the air. But still a decisive difference.”

02:52 PM BST

Settling in

After a nervy three, three-and-a-half games, some signs that the players are settling in. Quite the occasion this. Up in the press box, there was an unseemly scramble for seats.

02:49 PM BST

Nadal 2-3 Zverev*

Nadal, hearteningly, holds his serve to love. It’s raining in Paris by the way, although obviously we are under the roof on this court.

02:45 PM BST

Nadal* 1-3 Zverev

Zverev holds his serve.

Alexander Zverev clenches his fist
Alexander Zverev clenches his fist - AFP

02:37 PM BST

Nadal 1-2 Zverev*

Vital hold for Nadal, who is on the board. And perhaps encouraged by the fact that Zverev has made a couple of backhand errors in this game.

Bit of a delay because a couple of punters in the posh seats are moving around and causing distraction.

02:31 PM BST

Nadal* 0-2 Zverev

That’s age for ya. Little drop shot from Zverev, not perfect and it sits up a bit. In his prime, Rafa would have hared over there, slid, and hit a winner. But today, he just gives it up when six or eight yards away, knowing that it would be a waste of energy.

Nadal wins the first two points of that game. When he can stand and deliver he still looks mighty but the court coverage is going to be the issue. If Sascha can play the man not the legend here, he should win with plenty in hand.

02:26 PM BST

Nadal 0-1 Zverev*

Nadal is up against is straight away. Zverev aggressive, direct, moving the Spanish veteran around and he’s been very dominant there. Before you know it, it’s 0-40 and, not that the great man needed telling, but he knows he’s in a huge fight. Zverev takes the first of the three break points at his disposal.

Veteran up against it early

02:21 PM BST

Nadal in a powder blue

shirt with white shorts, his opponent in a shirt with a yellow front and white back. It’s Nadal to serve first.

02:18 PM BST

Roof a factor?

A few boos ring out among the cheers as Alexander Zverev enters the stadium. The closed roof clearly favours Zverev, both because Nadal is the world’s best windy-weather player (his heavy spin cuts through the breeze) and because Zverev has arguably the best serve in the game right now, which will only be enhanced by the lack of any wind to disrupt his ball-toss. He is landing a mind-boggling 74 per cent of his first serves this season, and unless Nadal gets in his head, I’d expect that figure to climb above 80 today.

02:17 PM BST

The great man is out on court

To a rapturous reception, as you might imagine, and this could be a fantastic occasion. By the way, it’s Alan Tyers here to talk you through the action.

02:10 PM BST

The last dance for Nadal in Paris?

Hello and welcome to coverage from the French Open in what could be Rafael Nadal’s final match at Roland Garros.

The 14-time champion begins his campaign against Alexander Zverev, which is the standout match in the first round.

“It’s not ideal the first match, because I feel competitive to have this match later in the tournament, but it’s how it is,” Nadal said.

“I need to be ready since the beginning. Let’s see.”

The meeting will bring back contrasting memories for both players of the last time they met, in a French Open semi-final in 2022, when Nadal went on to win yet another title in Paris, the last of his 22 Grand Slam victories.

Zverev was forced to retire from that match with an ankle injury. He underwent surgery and ended up missing the rest of the season with another injury, but he returned last year to reach his third consecutive French Open semi-final.

With some of the other top players such as Novak Djokovic, Jannik Sinner and Carlos Alcaraz, struggling with injuries of late, this could be Zverev’s chance to finally win a Grand Slam.

The German might not have wanted to meet Nadal so early in the tournament but he was happy to have the chance to take him on again.

“I really wanted to play him here. I did not want to play him in the first round. I wanted to play him in the semi-finals, finals, a later stage of the tournament,” Zverev said.

“But at the end of the day, he’s not seeded, it is how it is, and I think we’re both prepared for a tough battle.”

Any plans to pay tribute to Nadal if he loses have been scuppered because he has said this might not necessarily be his final appearance at the tournament.

“As you can imagine, we had something planned for him. But ... because he doesn’t know if it’s going to be his last Roland Garros or not, he wants to leave the door open maybe to come back next year as a player. So we are not going to push him, obviously, to do anything,” Mauresmo said.

“It’s his decision when he wants to have a proper ceremony, a proper goodbye, a proper farewell. So we’re not going to do it this year. That’s his wish,” she continued. “And even though we were ready to push the button if something happens, we obviously are going to respect what he wants and make sure we are ready whenever he feels he wants to do it. Later this year; next year; anytime he wants.”