Carlos Alcaraz will play Alexander Zverev in the first French Open final for each

Now the No. 3-seeded Alcaraz will face No. 4 Alexander Zverev of Germany on the red clay Sunday.
Alexander Zverev and Carlos Alcaraz
Alexander Zverev and Carlos Alcaraz

Paris | Carlos Alcaraz started poorly and fell behind early in his French Open semifinal against Jannik Sinner. Later, as both dealt with cramps under Friday's afternoon sun, Alcaraz trailed by two sets to one.

By the end of the latest installment in this burgeoning rivalry between two young, talented players, an engaging five-setter that lasted 4 hours, 9 minutes, Alcaraz actually had accumulated fewer total points, 147-145.

That, of course, is not the score that matters. And Alcaraz, who says he takes pleasure from challenges, ultimately persevered, pulling out a 2-6, 6-3, 3-6, 6-4, 6-3 victory over Sinner to get to his first final in Paris. It made the 21-year-old from Spain the youngest man to reach a Grand Slam title match on three surfaces.

“You have to find the joy (while) suffering. That's the key — even more on clay, here at Roland Garros. Long rallies. Four-hour matches. Five sets,” Alcaraz said. “You have to fight. You have to suffer. But as I told my team many, many times, you have to enjoy suffering.” He won championships at the U.S. Open in 2022 on hard courts and at Wimbledon in 2023 on grass.

Now the No. 3-seeded Alcaraz will face No. 4 Alexander Zverev of Germany on the red clay Sunday. Hours before his 2-6, 6-2, 6-4, 6-2 semifinal victory over No. 7 Casper Ruud of Norway, Zverev's domestic abuse case in Berlin ended, because he reached an out-of-court settlement with his accuser, a former girlfriend.

When a reporter tried to follow up on the topic, Zverev said: “We move on. I never, ever want to hear another question about the subject again. That goes out to everybody.” Ruud started well, but then began to fade, and he was handed some pills by a doctor during a third-set changeover. Ruud, who said afterward he had a stomach problem, looked listless and stopped chasing some shots, a shell of the player who leads the tour in match wins this season and has been the runner-up at majors three times — including in 2022 and 2023 in Paris.

Zverev finally broke through at Roland Garros after bowing out in the semifinals each of the past three years. This will be his second Grand Slam final: He blew a two-set lead and lost in five against Dominic Thiem at the U.S. Open in 2020.

“I was not mature enough. I was maybe too much of a kid still,” said Zverev, who is now 27. “I didn't know what the occasion means.” This will be the first French Open men's final without Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic or Roger Federer since 2004.

Djokovic was the defending champion in Paris, but he withdrew before the quarterfinals after tearing the meniscus in his right knee and had surgery this week. Because he failed to get back to the final, he will drop from atop the ATP rankings, allowing Sinner to rise a spot from No. 2, despite his defeat on Friday.

“Obviously disappointed how it ended, but it's part of my growing and the process,” said Sinner, who won the Australian Open in January for his first major trophy.

The 22-year-old Italian showed up in Paris with a lingering hip injury that forced him to sit out the clay-court tournament in Rome last month. Alcaraz missed that event, too, because of a right forearm issue that he said made him afraid to hit his booming forehands at full force.

Both men experienced physical problems in the third set. Alcaraz's right hand began to cramp. Sinner had his right forearm and left thigh massaged by a trainer during changeovers.

It brought to mind last year's French Open semifinals, when Alcaraz got off to a terrific start against Djokovic but then dealt with full-body cramps that rendered the remainder of the match anticlimactic.

He and Sinner are seen as the future of men's tennis. The present isn't too shabby, either. Even though this was not necessarily the most aesthetically pleasing of their nine head-to-head meetings — Alcaraz leads 5-4 — and they combined for 102 unforced errors, there were moments of brilliance that generated dueling clap-accompanied chants of each man's first name from the Court Philippe Chatrier crowd.

In the fifth set, with shadows covering more than half the court, Alcaraz moved out front by sliding until he could reach across his body to snap a backhand passing winner for a break point. A forehand winner — one of his 30 in the match — made it 2-0 at the 3½-hour mark, earning a yell of “Vamos!” from his coach, 2003 French Open champion Juan Carlos Ferrero.

Soon, it was 3-0, and Alcaraz was on his way.

Both players walloped the ball with such force that the ball-off-strings thuds elicited gasps from spectators in the middle of points.

Sinner, his rust-colored shirt a few shades darker than the clay, came out ready at the start of the match, barely ever missing, gliding more than grinding along the baseline, stretching his long limbs to get to nearly everything Alcaraz offered. Alcaraz, his right arm covered by a white sleeve, would deliver a powerful shot to a corner, punctuated with a grunt, and Sinner would somehow get to it, flip it back and draw a mistake.

Sinner led 4-0 and it took Alcaraz 20 minutes of striving to simply place a “1” beside his name on the scoreboard. The second set began inauspiciously for Alcaraz, who fell behind 2-0.

Here's how Alcaraz came through: He came up with a 32-23 edge in winners over the last two sets.

With his strokes, somehow, gaining zest, and the fans, somehow, getting louder, Alcaraz advanced at a tournament he grew up watching on TV at home in Spain as his countryman Nadal piled up a record 14 titles.

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