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Rafael Nadal loses what may be his French Open finale to Alexander Zverev

Rafael Nadal waves to the crowd and walks off the tennis court
Rafael Nadal, center, leaves the court after losing to Alexander Zverev during their first-round match at the French Open. It may be Nadal’s final time competing in the tournament he has dominated.
(Thibault Camus / Associated Press)
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Rafael Nadal lost in the first round of the French Open to Alexander Zverev 6-3, 7-6 (5), 6-3 on Monday in what might turn out to be the 14-time Roland Garros champion’s last match at his favorite tournament.

Nadal has indicated 2024 likely would be his last season before retirement, but he said Saturday that he is not 100% sure he won’t play again at the French Open. And he reiterated that after Monday’s defeat, only his fourth in 116 career matches at the place.

When it ended, in anticlimactic fashion, with 22-time Grand Slam champion Nadal simply unable to play at his usual level after 1 1/2 years of hip and abdominal injuries, he thanked the raucous Court Philippe Chatrier crowd for the “incredible the amount of energy” it provided throughout the 3 hours, 5 minutes of play.

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“It’s difficult for me to talk. I don’t know [if] it’s going to be the last time I am here. I am not 100% sure,” said Nadal, whose 1 1/2-year-old son, Rafael Jr., sat on his mother’s lap in the stands. “If it’s the last time, I enjoyed it.”

It is the first time in his long and illustrious career that Nadal has been beaten in two consecutive matches on clay courts and the first time he has dropped a match earlier than the fourth round at the French Open.

The match was played with the retractable roof shut, and the loud chants of “Ra-fa!” from most in the capacity crowd of about 15,000 echoed.

Nadal turns 38 on June 3 and he has been dealing with hip and abdominal injuries since January 2023, limiting him to 15 matches and an 8-7 record since the start of last year. His infrequent play dropped his ranking to No. 275 and he was unseeded for the French Open for the first time.

That is why he ended up facing the No. 4-seeded Zverev, the runner-up at the 2020 U.S. Open, a gold medalist at the Tokyo Olympics and the only man to reach the semifinals in Paris each of the past three years.

Nadal’s other losses at Roland Garros came against Robin Soderling in 2010 and against Novak Djokovic in 2015 and 2021.

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“To be honest, I don’t know what to say. First of all: Thank you, Rafa, from all of the tennis world,” Zverev said. “It’s such a great honor. I’ve watched Rafa play all my childhood, and I was lucky enough to play Rafa when I became a professional. ... Today is not my moment. It’s Rafa’s moment.”

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