Alcaraz Finds The Joy In Suffering, Through To First Roland-Garros Final

Carlos Alcaraz (photo: Jürgen Hasenkopf)

PARIS/WASHINGTON, June 7, 2024 (by Michael Dickens)

At 21, Carlos Alcaraz of Spain has become the youngest man to reach a Grand Slam title match on all three surfaces: hard, grass and now clay.

On Friday afternoon, Alcaraz reached his first Roland-Garros final with a 2-6, 6-3, 3-6, 6-4, 6-3 victory over new No. 1 Jannik Sinner of Italy in four hours and nine minutes before a full house of tennis fans that filled Court Philippe-Chatrier.

Alcaraz proved himself to be a true clay-court player — even if the first semifinal did not turn out to be a day of consistent excellence, after he and Sinner combined for 102 unforced errors. However, there was plenty of drama and outstanding shot making by both him and the 22-year-old Sinner to whet everyone’s appetite.

They played a total of 292 points and by the end, when Sinner swatted a cross-court forehand from deep in the right corner near the baseline wide of its intended target — killing one final 12-shot skirmish — Alcaraz actually trailed in total points 147-145. But the Spaniard with the big smile emerged as the winner.

By advancing to Sunday’s final against No. 4 seed Alexander Zverev of Germany, who eliminated two-time Roland-Garros finalist Casper Ruud of Norway in four sets, Alcaraz has a chance to garner a third different major after his previous title wins at the 2022 US Open (on hard courts) and 2023 Wimbledon Championships (on grass).

During his in-court interview with Alex Corretja, Alcaraz spoke volumes when he said: “You have to find the joy in suffering. That’s the key – even more on clay, here at Roland-Garros. Long rallies. Four-hour matches. Five sets. 

“You have to fight. You have to suffer. But as I told my team many, many times, you have to enjoy suffering.”

Meanwhile, the second seed Sinner, who will rise to World No. 1 in the PIF ATP Rankings after defending champion Novak Djokovic withdrew before the quarterfinals after tearing the medial meniscus in his right knee and had surgery this week – and despite his defeat on Friday – was disappointed by the outcome. However, he said he would learn from it.

“Obviously disappointed how it ended, but it’s part of my growing and the process,” Sinner said in his post-match news conference. “The winner is happy, and then the loser tries to find a way to beat him the next time.”

In their ninth career meeting – Alcaraz now leads the head-to-head 5-4 – the Sinner-Alcaraz showdown began with one-way traffic in the Italian’s favor. Sinner made clean contact and his backhands down the line were on target. Up a double-break at 4-0, Sinner took advantage as Alcaraz’s forehand broke down repeatedly. He won the first set with ease.

Twice, after the first and third sets, Sinner led by a set and seemed the stronger of the two players.  However, both suffered physically — Alcaraz was plagued by cramping in his right hand and Sinner received treatment on his right forearm and left thigh in the middle set. Ultimately, Sinner paid the price. That’s because Alcaraz mounted a comeback in the fourth set — and carried it through to the end of the match. He remained calm, continued to win key points, and by the end was the better player — winning eight of the final 11 games.

“I learned from last year’s match against Djokovic, when I was in the same position as today,” Alcaraz said. “I know that, in this moment, you have to be calm, you have to keep going, because the cramp is going to go away. You have to stay there, fighting.”

Alcaraz finished with 65 winners, including eight aces, and converted six of 14 break points. By comparison, Sinner hit seven aces, struck 39 winners and broke Alcaraz’s serve six times in 10 opportunities.

“It was a great match. For sure, the sets he won, he played better in the important points,” Sinner said. “That was the key.”

Zverev overcomes ailing Ruud to reach first Roland-Garros final

The same can be said for Zverev. The World No. 4 overcame a rough start against the seventh-seeded Ruud and won, 2-6, 6-2, 6-4, 6-2, in two hours and 35 minutes on Court Philippe-Chatrier as the sun was setting over Paris.

Zverev is through to his first Roland-Garros final after playing in his fourth semifinal. He’s the second German man to reach the Roland-Garros final in Open Era, joining Michael Stich, who played in the 1996 final. On Sunday, Zverev will be trying to win his first Grand Slam after losing the 2020 US Open final to Dominic Thiem in five sets.

Zverev, 27, who lost in the semifinal round at Paris in 2021, 2022 and 2023 – losing to Ruud in straight sets last year – recovered after a first-set wobble and gained strength by each passing set, while Ruud fell ill with a stomach cramp. He closed out the win with a flourish by hitting his 19th ace and 54th winner.

“I am extremely happy,” Zverev said in his on-court interview with Mats Wilander. “I have so much history on this court and had some of the best memories and worst memories on this court. I am so happy to be in the final finally on my fourth semifinal. I am going to give it my all on Sunday.”

Ruud, in his post-match news conference, shared his disappointment with the timing of his stomach ailment. “I don’t have the answers now, but I’m just, you know, disappointed that it had to be today,” he said. “Why couldn’t it be yesterday or day before, when I had three days off?”

Around Roland-Garros

Marcelo Arevalo of El Salvador and Mate Pavic of Croatia moved to within one win of earning their first major title as a team. On Friday, the ninth seeds took out top seeds Marcel Granollers of Spain and Horacio Zeballos of Argentina, 3-6, 6-4, 7-5 in two hours on Court Simonne-Mathieu to reach Saturday’s final. They will face Simone Bolelli and Andrea Vavassori of Italy in the title match.

Although Pavic has won three men’s doubles majors, he’s not won Roland-Garros, while Arevalo won the 2022 title teamed with Jean-Julien Rojer of the Netherlands.

• This Roland-Garros will be remembered for how well Italy performed in doubles. First, the unseeded Italian men’s duo of Simone Bolelli and Andrea Vavassori are through to Saturday’s title match. Now, they are joined by the success of the Italian women.

On Friday, No. 11 seeds Sara Errani and Jasmine Paolini rallied to beat unseeded Marta Kostyuk of Ukraine and Elena-Gabriela Ruse of Romania, 1-6, 6-4, 6-1, in a 2-hour and 1-minute semifinal on Court Simmone-Mathieu.

Paolini is also competing in the women’s singles final this weekend against two-time defending champion Iga Swiatek of Poland.

Come Sunday, the Italians will meet No. 5 seeds Coco Gauff of the United States and Katerina Siniakova of the Czech Republic in the women’s title match. Both Gauff and Siniakova are former No. 1s in doubles.

Teaming up for the first time at Roland-Garros, Gauff and Siniakova also trailed before defeating all-American No. 8 seeds Caroline Dolehide and Desirae Krawczyk, 5-7, 6-4, 6-2.

Kayan Bigun, an 18-year-old from Los Angeles Calif., who has committed to play college tennis in the United States at UCLA, has reached the final of the French Open boys’ singles. He’s trying to become the first American to win the boys’ title in Paris since Tommy Paul in 2015.

Friday’s Roland-Garros results

Saturday’s Roland-Garros order of play

By the numbers

Sunday will be the first French Open final without Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic or Roger Federer since 2004.

“Quotable …”

“It was one of the toughest matches that I’ve played, for sure. The toughest matches that I played in my short career have been against Jannik.”

— No. 3 seed Carlos Alcaraz, during his post-match remarks after defeating No. 2 seed Jannik Sinner to advance to his first Roland-Garros final.