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Nadal will play Ruud in the French Open final

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After Zverev’s injury, Nadal will play Ruud in the French Open final.
Rafael Nadal was in the midst of a tense, exciting, and long French Open semifinal on Friday when his opponent, third-seeded Alexander Zverev, hurt his right ankle while chasing a ball. Zverev collapsed to the ground, sobbing and gripping his lower leg in pain.

Zverev was hoisted up by a trainer and wheeled away from the court in a wheelchair, his arms and legs caked in rust-colored clay. After Nadal observed him sobbing in a tiny room in the stadium, Zverev returned to Court Philippe Chatrier on crutches and without his right shoe, and surrendered the match, unable to continue.

On his 36th birthday, Nadal became the second-oldest men’s finalist in French Open history, in a match that lasted three hours yet did not even go through two complete sets. He’ll face first-time Grand Slam finalist Casper Ruud on Sunday in an attempt to become the oldest champion at a tournament he’s already won a record 13 times.

“All I can say is that I hope he’s not too awful.” Hopefully, when you turn your ankle, it’s just a regular occurrence, and nothing serious happens (is broken). “Everyone wishes for that,” Nadal stated. “Even if it’s a dream come true for me to reach the Roland Garros final, that’s not the way we want it to go.”

He emerged to clinch a tight-as-can-be, exhausting first set by a 7-6 (8) score after 1 1/2 hours, with the pitter-patter of rain on the closed retractable roof at Court Philippe Chatrier and many in the audience of 15,000 repeatedly yelling “Ra-fa! Ra-fa!” After another 1 1/2 hours, the second set was heading to a tiebreaker when Zverev slipped behind the baseline and missed a point, allowing Nadal to hold service for a 6-all tie.

A trainer was sent out to help him, and Nadal stepped around the net to see how Zverev was doing. After returning to the court to inform Nadal that he would have to withdraw from the match, Zverev shook the chair umpire’s hand and hugged him.

Nadal, who has been suffering from chronic pain in his left foot and had just completed two victories that lasted more than four hours each — including a quarterfinal against defending champion Novak Djokovic that ended at 1:15 a.m. on Wednesday — showed no signs of age, injury, or fatigue against the 25-year-old Zverev.

What bothered Nadal thereafter was the way the high humidity affected things, causing clay to adhere to the tennis balls and making it difficult for him to apply his thick topspin.

“The conditions this afternoon were not perfect for me — or the style that I generally play here,” Nadal remarked. “That’s why I wasn’t able to inflict the damage I desired.”

In addition to attempting to win his 14th trophy at the French Open, Nadal may add his 22nd Grand Slam title to his men’s record after winning the Australian Open in January. Djokovic and Federer are tied for 20th place.

In addition, if Nadal defeats Ruud in Sunday’s final, it will be the first time the Spaniard has ever won the first two legs of a calendar-year Grand Slam.

Ruud became the first player from Norway to reach a major final, defeating 2014 US Open winner Marin Cilic 3-6, 6-4, 6-2, 6-2 in a match that was stopped for more than ten minutes in the third set by a climate activist who sat on the court and attached herself to the net.

Ruud, who is 23 years old, has never played Nadal but has studied at the King of Clay’s academy in Mallorca.

“He’s the epitome of how you should conduct yourself on the court: never give up and never complain.” Ruud, who was trained by his father, Christian, a pro player from 1991 to 2001, remarked, “He’s been my idol my whole life.” “I suppose it’s just wonderful timing, and it’s been worth the wait to play him in a Grand Slam.”

Zverev finished second at the US Open two years ago and earned a gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics last summer, but he has yet to win a major championship.

“He had a lot of bad luck,” Nadal observed. “The only thing I’m certain of is that he’ll win a lot more than one.” So I wish him the best of luck and a speedy recovery.”

Zverev won nearly twice as many games as Nadal, 40-21, and got off to a “incredible” start, according to Nadal, who dubbed the first set a “miracle.”

However, after a reckless swing sent a ball speeding past the chair umpire and landing 10 feet outside of the court in the opening game, his racket fell out of his grasp and dropped behind him. Nadal broke for the first time after an inaccurate backhand, making it 4-all and sending red-and-yellow Spanish flags waving in the bleachers.

Zverev led 6-2 in the first tiebreaker, giving him four set points. But Nadal erased them all, including one by running to his left and finishing up outside of the doubles alley to conjure up an amazing angle for a cross-court forehand passing winner. He received a standing ovation from the audience. He had no business getting to Zverev’s fast volley, much less forming that short volley.

And yet, it is exactly what Nadal accomplishes to so many of his opponents. He hangs in there, never missing a point, and plays every shot as if it were his last.

He’s been like this since he was a teenager. Why should he quit now that he’s in his mid-thirties?

Bill Tilden, the only senior men’s finalist in Paris, came in second at 37 years old in 1930. Andres Gimeno, who aged 34 in 1972, was the oldest champion to date.

Nadal, who won the French Open on his debut at the age of 19, has claimed in recent days that he doesn’t know if each match will be his last at Roland Garros. That is primarily due to his left foot.

“When you enjoy moments like I’m experiencing in this tournament, all the sacrifices and all the things that I need to go through to try to keep playing make sense,” Nadal said.

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