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Cramping Carlos Alcaraz comes from behind to win French Open in five-set thriller with Alexander Zverev

CARLOS ALCARAZ overcame painful cramp in his legs as he fulfilled a childhood dream to become King of Clay at the French Open.

As 14-time champion Rafael Nadal edges closer to retirement, the Parisians now have a new Spanish hero to worship on the red stuff of Court Philippe-Chatrier.

Getty
Carlos Alcaraz is the French Open champion for the first time[/caption]
Getty
Alcaraz got his hands on the famous trophy in Paris[/caption]
Reuters
Alexander Zverev was left in tears after losing another Grand Slam final from a set away[/caption]

Alcaraz – who used to race home from school to watch Roland Garros on the TV – joined a long list of fellow countrymen to lift this title thanks to a 6-3 2-6 5-7 6-1 6-2 triumph over Alexander Zverev.

It was a sinew-straining four-hour-nineteen-minute performance from the former world No1, who needed treatment on his thigh muscles as the five-set endurance test took its toll.

Whatever else he may achieve in his career, Alcaraz can sleep easy at night knowing he has accomplished a lifelong ambition.

And at the age of 21, he has become the youngest man to win major championships on all three different surfaces – hard, grass and now clay.

Now he will head Down Under in January aiming to complete the Career Grand Slam at the Australian Open – three months before his 22nd birthday.

This was the first French Open final since 2004 in which none of Nadal, Novak Djokovic nor Roger Federer – the Big Three of this Golden Era – had been involved.

A new name was going to be engraved on the Coupe des Mousquetaires – translated in English as The Musketeers’ Trophy – but proceedings did not exactly start in swashbuckling fashion.

This final took place two days after Zverev’s domestic abuse trial in Berlin was discontinued after a settlement was reached between him and his former partner following a lengthy legal battle.

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Nerves got the better of both men as they were broken in their first service games – Zverev opened up with TWO double faults and then Alcaraz was missing his spots, too.

In his previous major final appearance, Zverev, 27, bottled it when he was close to the finish line.

Unforgivably, he let slip a two-sets lead in the finale of the Covid-hit 2020 US Open and ended up losing in five sets to Austrian Dominic Thiem – a result that left him in tears in New York.

As well as he had performed this fortnight in Paris, including knocking out Nadal in round one, Zverev’s temperament in the big moments would be thoroughly examined.

The majority of the crowd support was for Alcaraz as French fans switched allegiances from their long-time hero Nadal to this dashing young Iberian.

Alcaraz, still wearing a protective sleeve on his right arm, broke the mighty Zverev serve to love in game five.

And then he claimed the first set after 46 minutes with another break in game nine that was achieved thanks to his booming forehand.

In set two, lanky Zverev was far more aggressive with his groundstrokes and stepped it up as Alcaraz’s level dropped considerably.

The Wimbledon champion conceded two pivotal breaks of serve, one was a forehand malfunction – he shanked the ball into row Z – and then embarrassingly produced a double fault.

In the third set, Zverev was the better player and showcased his power, in particular one shot where he literally took the racquet out of the hand of the outstretched Alcaraz.

Despite being booed by the crowd for chucking away a ball on his second set point, the reigning Olympic singles champion took his chance to move 2-1 up in sets.

Quality might have been missing from this occasion – overall there were 15 breaks of serve and 12 double faults – but this was becoming an intriguing chess match on clay.

And Alcaraz emphatically took the contest to a decider with a dominant fourth-set display.

This was despite requiring a medical timeout which saw a physio vigorously rub his left thigh, a reminder that he had felt cramp in his semi-final win over tomorrow’s new world No1 Jannik Sinner.

This was the second five-set final in 20 years and you wondered how much fatigue would play its part, especially as Zverev played for a record 19 hours 27 minutes coming into the contest.

Alcaraz broke Zverev in game three and then came from 0-40 down and survived four break points to increase his lead to 3-1.

Zverev’s hopes of becoming the third German man to win a Slam in the Open Era were crushed by Alcaraz, who collects a cheque for more than £2milllion.

Essentially the game was up when Alcaraz produced an extraordinary one-handed backhand winner on the slide to get the insurance break and move 5-2 ahead.

And just like against Djokovic at Wimbledon 11 months ago, Alcaraz showed confidence and composure well beyond his tender years to close it out in style – before collapsing on his back Nadal-style into the red clay.

Compatriot Nadal wasted no time in congratulating Alcaraz, tweeting: “Congratulations @carlosalcaraz for this immense victory!!!! Big!!!! Very happy for your successes!!! #Vamos”

Getty
A new, first-time French Open winner was guaranteed[/caption]
EPA
Zverev changed his racquet after double faulting on the first two points of the match[/caption]
Getty
Alcaraz enjoyed letting rip with his epic forehand[/caption]
EPA
The Spaniard also showed his superb touch at the net[/caption]

Alcaraz, who was handed the trophy by six-time winner Bjorn Borg and vowed to get a tattoo of the Eiffel Tower and today’s date to add to his US Open and Wimbledon inkings, said: “The last month, we were struggling a lot with the injury. I didn’t feel well.

“Over the next few weeks, there were a lot of doubts coming here, not practising too many hours on the court.

“I’m really grateful to have the team that I have. I know that everyone in my team is giving their heart just to make me improve as a player and person. I call you as a team but it’s a family.

“I’m lucky to have my family here. The support you have given me since being a little kid has been amazing.

“When I finished school, I used to run home to put the TV on to watch this tournament. And now I am lifting the trophy in front of all of you. Thank you for your help on the journey.”

Zverev rowed with the umpire over a crucial line call in the fifth set, thinking he had got a break back when Alcaraz had double-faulted only for the Spaniard to be given a reprieve and battle back for that important hold.

The German then broke down in tears once again after failing to convert a major final despite being a set away from victory.

He said: “Carlos, a third Grand Slam at 21 years old, it’s incredible.
“You’ve won three different ones. You’ve had an amazing career.

“You’re already a Hall of Famer. Only 21 years old. Not the last time you’re going to win this.

“To my team, we were close today. Not enough. Hopefully we’ll be able to hold this trophy one day.”

Getty
Zverev’s backhand is one of his biggest strengths and he used it to turn the match around[/caption]
Alamy
Alcaraz needed the physio to come on and massage his left thigh[/caption]
Getty
Alexander Zverev complained as he let his lead slip[/caption]
AP
He got into an argument with the umpire over a tight line call in the fifth set[/caption]
Getty
Alcaraz entertained the crowd as he wrestled back control[/caption]
Getty
The Spaniard served out for victory in composed, confident fashion[/caption]
Getty
There was a hug at the end of the five-set tussle[/caption]
Reuters
Bjorn Borg presented the trophies to the finalists[/caption]
Getty
Alcaraz sealed his fortnight in Paris with a kiss[/caption]
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