Roland Garros success underlines Carlos Alcaraz’s new-found proficiency to win whilst suffering

Carlos Alcaraz beat Alexander Zverev in a historic Roland Garros final (Imago/MAXPPP)


Carlos Alcaraz beat Alexander Zverev to become the youngest player to win Grand Slams on three different surfaces (Imago/MAXPPP)

Roland Garros success underlines Carlos Alcaraz’s new-found proficiency to win whilst suffering

Seye Omidiora 20:41 - 09.06.2024

The Spanish sensation overcame Alexander Zverev in a thrilling five-setter on Philippe-Chatrier to make tennis history at the French Open.

How was that for being put through the emotional rollercoaster? Carlos Alcaraz spoke about suffering and enjoying suffering after defeating Jannik Sinner in the semi-final at Roland Garros, and he took it up a notch in his first French Open final against Alexander Zverev on Sunday. 

The 21-year-old became the youngest player to make the decider at three different majors (disparate surfaces) after defeating the Italian and the sensation became the youngest to win those titles by extending his winning run in such matches to three from three, edging the No. 4 seed in over four hours to triumph 6-3, 2-6, 5-7, 6-1, 6-2. 

Friday’s semi-final five-set success was the Spaniard’s 10th in prolonged matches at majors before turning 22 in the Open Era, moving level with Marat Safin. Sunday’s five-set triumph took him to 11, one ahead of the retired Russian, placing him one behind a record jointly held by Michael Chang and Bjorn Borg. 

"You have to find the joy suffering," Alcaraz said after beating Sinner "That is the key, even more here on clay at Roland Garros. Long rallies, four-hour matches, five sets. You have to fight, you have to suffer but as I told my team, you have to enjoy suffering."

Carlos Alcaraz vs Alexander Zverev

In a sense, both players took the scenic route to this year’s decider. Zverev had to overcome consecutive semi-final losses in three years against Stefanos Tsitsipas, Rafael Nadal and Casper Ruud, seeing him fall just short of a title match in Paris. 

The second of those defeats hurt. Despite losing the first set to Nadal in the 2022 semis, the German pushed the King of Clay for two extended sets and forced a tie-break in the second before rolling his ankle, which forced his retirement in a wheelchair. 

Two years later, Zverev got a payback win against Nadal, even if that much was expected against the 22-time Grand Slam champion, who got little time on court in the lead-up to Roland Garros.

Alexander Zverev after defeating Rafael Nadal at Roland Garros
Alexander Zverev became the first player to beat Rafael Nadal in the first round at Roland Garros (Imago/GEPA pictures)

Inflicting Nadal’s first-ever first-round loss at the French Open may have been expected but Zverev intermittently had to hit his best level against the greatest clay court player to grace the sport. 

Revenge against Ruud followed in this year's semis in four, on the back of consecutive five-set thrillers in the third and fourth rounds against Tallon Griekspoor and Holger Rune, respectively. Zverev won the former having been down a double break in the fifth set and was two sets to one down against Rune in the following round.

He was a man on a mission after reaching the semis in three consecutive years, and the rest of his run went swimmingly after those close shaves in the earlier rounds before going a step further by finally making it to the final day in Paris for the first time. 

Alexander Zverev beat Casper Ruud to make the 2024 Roland Garros final
Alexander Zverev made it to the French Open final after three consecutive semi-final defeats (Imago/NurPhoto)

For Alcaraz’s part, the two-time Grand Slam winner went into another Slam meeting with Zverev as the slight underdog despite his unquestionable talent.

That assertion may be scoffed at given the Spaniard’s previous success at majors to his opponent’s none, but the recent tussle at the Slams in Australia went the German’s way in four sets and the No. 4 seed also claimed their previous encounter in Paris (quarters in 2022) in four. 

Unlike Zverev, who reigned supreme at the Masters 1000 event in Rome just before Roland Garros, the 21-year-old had little or no momentum.

Alcaraz withdrew from the top event in Monte-Carlo and the one in Rome because of a troublesome right arm injury, only making the quarters in Madrid before losing to Andrey Rublev, missing out on a three-peat in his home tournament. 

Sunday’s final was effectively Zverev’s power and consistency in Paris against Alcaraz’s potential allied with his ball-striking, court coverage and execution when in full flow. It delivered and then some, as they traded sets in a match that witnessed oscillating momentum between sets and even between games. 

Just as he had done in the semi-final against Sinner, who dethrones Novak Djokovic as World No. 1 on Monday, Alcaraz won sets four and five to reign supreme on Philippe-Chatrier.

Carlos Alcaraz and Alexander Zverev
Carlos Alcaraz and Alexander Zverev share an embrace after a thrilling Roland Garros final (Imago/MAXPPP)

However, the 21-year-old was far from smooth in the fourth against Zverev despite claiming it 6-1, with the German’s erratic execution gifting the Spaniard free points in a set where he needed a medical time out. 

Carlos Alcaraz Roland Garros
Carlos Alcaraz received treatment in the fourth set against Alexander Zverev (Imago/MAXPPP)

That changed in the fifth, even if Alcaraz saving four break-back points in the fourth game of the fifth set lasting 10 minutes effectively knocked the stuffing out of the No. 4 seed. 

It went swimmingly for the sensation afterwards, as he moved through the gears to deliver multiple winners in the final’s culmination against his opponent, who was undoubtedly gracious in defeat. 

"Congratulations Carlos. Third Grand Slam, 21 years old. It's incredible," said Zverev after the disappointing loss. "You won three different ones. You're already a Hall of Famer and you're only 21 years old."

Carlos Alcaraz Roland Garros
Carlos Alcaraz kisses Coupe des Mousquetaires after Sunday's French Open success (Imago/ZUMA Press Wire)

Alcaraz and Sinner were tied at 4-4 before Friday’s semi-final tussle, and beating the Italian takes him ahead in that head-to-head. He trailed Zverev 5-4 coming into Sunday’s decider and he edged the back-and-fourth thriller to move level against the player he has faced more times than anyone else on Tour. 

“Before I was a professional I would leave school and run home to plug the TV in and watch Roland Garros matches. It’s a very special tournament for me that I’ve been watching since I was little," said Alcaraz before Sunday's final.

"And it’s a tournament where Spanish players have been very successful. So I want to leave my mark, add my name to that list.”

Alcaraz had to bide his time to add his name to the list of Spaniards to win in Paris, underlined by defeat to Zverev in the quarters in 2022 and losing to Djokovic in last year’s semis. 

It has been a steady year-on-year progression leading to his eventual success at Roland Garros, with his participation and condition questioned this year due to his troubled arm. 

However, the star attraction overcame those doubts, rose above his tendencies to collapse and made tennis history on Philippe-Chatrier. 

How good is he? His potential is stratospheric.