French Open final analysis: Carlos Alcaraz beats Alexander Zverev at Roland Garros

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Carlos Alcaraz beat Alexander Zverev in the French Open final at Roland Garros 6-3, 2-6, 5-7, 6-1, 6-2 on Sunday.

The No 3 seed prevailed over the No 4 seed in a display of the jitteriness and tension of a Grand Slam final, the match oscillating violently before, as against Jannik Sinner in the semifinal, Alcaraz found his shotmaking and trusted his deadliness to seize control and win.

It is his first French Open title, and a third Grand Slam title on three different surfaces by the age of 21.

The Athletic’s writers, Charlie Eccleshare and Matt Futterman, analyze the final and what it means for tennis.

A fight for middle ground in the opening exchanges

In the first set, the two players were winning a similar number of points when the rallies were up to four shorts or longer than nine — the difference was in the middle, in rallies of between five and eight shots. Alcaraz dominated this metric in the first set, using his greater variety of speed and spin and particularly height to either bait Zverev into mistakes, or to create simple finishing shots that kept the rallies shorter than they might have been.

But in the second set, Zverev’s impressive durability really kicked in, and he completely flipped things in this regard, taking 14 of 20 points that were five-to-eight-shot rallies. In a match that from the second set onwards was an excruciating washing machine of nerves, this was one of the only clear indications throughout of who was dictating the match. Zverev was even able to ride the momentum of the second set into the third, in which, despite the fluctuating scoreline, he was much the better player.

Charlie Eccleshare

Carlos Alcaraz figures out winning ugly

Three different Grand Slam titles. Three different surfaces. Three completely different matches.

It’s a safe bet that no one ever would have thought to have put “winning ugly” and Carlos Alcaraz in the same sentence, but that is what unfolded Sunday in Paris. For long stretches, Alcaraz’s game was downright sloppy and unreliable. He sprayed and framed his forehands. He resorted to moonballs on his backhand.  He struggled to hold his serve at what looked like the pivot point in the third set, when he was up 5-2 and had seemingly cracked Alexander Zverev’s resolve by breaking him to love after previously losing 14 points in a row on the German’s serve.

This was nothing like the highlight-reel performance he produced in the finals of the U.S. Open in 2022, or the steely nerves he showed during last year’s Wimbledon final, a five-set thriller that dethroned Novak Djokovic.

His comeback Sunday relied as much on Zverev’s serve reverting to its late match wobbliness, and his inability to close points at the net. The key break of serve in the second set had a double fault and two blown volleys that gave the game to Alcaraz.

Even after that, Alcaraz sent a forehand long, sliced another one into the net sent a third wide to give Zverev a second life.

Alcaraz’s triumphs often send people walking to the exits raving about scintillating running forehand winners. And point-saving scrambles. That wasn’t what Sunday was about.

For Alcaraz it was about survival.

Matt Futterman

Can Alexander Zverev iron out the fluctuations in his serve and volley?

His serve has defined much of Alexander Zverev’s career. How can it fluctuate from being a formidable weapon to a complete liability? How can it be that a player who is 6ft 6in can sometimes look so nervy when doing something that should come so naturally? And how much is this a mental barrier?

Like in the 2020 U.S. Open final when he served like a club player down the stretch, on Sunday the full range of motion was on show, seemingly leaving nobody, least of all Zverev, able to find an answer.

Zverev was broken twice in the first set, but he only hit two double faults, both in the first game of the match. After that, he locked down in the second and didn’t face a break point. He continued that momentum into the third, and when serving down 2-3 he was on a run of three straight love holds and 14 points in a row on serve.

At which point he promptly got broken to love. Old demons appeared to be resurfacing.

Instead, he controlled them. Zverev recovered to hold his next three service games, going on to win the third set and looking like he had conquered the issue… Before losing all three in the fourth to give up the set 6-1 and surrendering an early break in the fifth to make it four service breaks out of five and effectively concede the match.

But in the fifth set, it wasn’t the serve. He hit two wonderful first serves and came in behind them intelligently. The first time, he poked a backhand volley long. The second, he hit a duff effort into the net.

It’s hard to imagine Zverev ever becoming a Grand-Slam champion while his serve, and the points it generates, can veer so quickly from lethal to liability.

Charlie Eccleshare

How did Alcaraz handle the pressure?

One of the truisms of tennis is to pay very close attention to what a player does under pressure, when they really need a point.

Alcaraz was fighting his way out of crucial break point danger all afternoon, and never more so in the fourth game of the fifth set, when he fell down 0-40 after he had earned what looked like it might be the decisive break and was four games from the finish line. He climbed out of that hole with the help of a faltering Zverev then finally had a game point of his own.

Players talk about the power of Alacaraz’s shots with a kind of awe. Out of nowhere he pulls the trigger and rockets the ball by them through the back of the court. Zverev was looking out for something like that, hanging deep in the court to return his serve. He seemingly forgot about the shot that had been one of Alcaraz’s most effective weapons on a day when he couldn’t rely on much of his arsenal.

Alcaraz cracked a serve to Zverev’s backhand and when the return floated back to him, he didn’t try to to pound a ball through the back wall. He feathered a drop shot to the front of the court. Zverev didn’t bother running for it.

He did it again in the final game at 15-15. It worked.

Matt Futterman

What did Carlos Alcaraz say after the final?

We’ll bring you quotes when the players speak.

What did Alexander Zverev say after the final?

We’ll bring you quotes when the players speak.

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(Top photo: Tim Goode/Getty Images)

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