The French Open men’s semifinals is a battle of generations – the 36-year-old birthday boy Nadal, will up against the 25-year-old Alexander Zverev, the third seed, while Norway’s first-ever men’s Grand semifinalist Casper Ruud, the eighth seed, will take on Croatia’s Marin Cilic, who at 33, has a decade on his opponent, and more significantly is the midst of authoring a comeback to the duplicitous sands of the major leagues.
Ruud and Cilic have met twice — in 2021 and 2020 — on outdoor hardcourt and clay, the 23-year-old prevailed on both occasions.
The Zverev-Nadal head-to-head is the more persuasive one, Friday is their 10th meeting.
The Spaniard leads the rivalry 6-3, but the wiry German has won three of their last four meetings, including one on clay in Madrid last year. They’ve met just once in a Grand Slam in Melbourne, back in 2017, and Nadal prevailed in five sets.
Zverev, who claimed his first top-10 win in a Grand Slam when he beat teen sensation Carlos Alcaraz in the quarterfinals on Philippe Chatrier, knows that the five-set format will be as much the centre of the last-four exchange as will be clay and Roland Garros.
“It’s the most physical test in tennis and also one of the biggest physical tests in any sport,” said Zverev, who was 0-11 against top-10 opposition in majors until two days ago.
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“You don’t know how long you’re going to play for, what meals you are eating, what you are doing on the court. You might be playing for an hour and a half or might be playing for six hours. It’s something that maybe no other sport has.”
“Also, you are obviously running a lot, jumping a lot. You have to concentrate on your technique too,” he said. “You have to be mentally tough (for the duration), which I think is most difficult.”
In his win over Alcaraz the German displayed an unwavering focus and an icy calm. He gave little away.
“I have not beaten Nadal in majors, but I was very close,” he said of the five-set puzzle. “There is a big difference between having a tough match and beating him. Hopefully I can take this performance (from the quarters) and put it on the court (again) on Friday.”
And then some more, maybe.