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French Open men’s final: Carlos Alcaraz seeks a third Grand Slam title and Alexander Zverev a first

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PARIS (AP) — When Carlos Alcaraz was a kid growing up in Spain — which, considering he’s only 21, was not all that long ago — he used to run home from school and flip on the TV to check out the French Open.

Long before he was preparing to play in Sunday’s final in Paris against Alexander Zverev, Alcaraz watched a lot of matches involving Rafael Nadal, of course, as his countryman was accumulating a record 14 titles at Roland Garros.

“I wanted to put my name on that list of the Spanish players who won this tournament. Not only Rafa,” said Alcaraz, who then rattled off champions such as Juan Carlos Ferrero (who happens to be his coach), Carlos Moya and Albert Costa, calling them “legends from our sport that won this tournament.”

He just might join them.

Alcaraz has triumphed on the U.S. Open’s hard courts in 2022, and Wimbledon’s grass courts in 2023, and now he is one victory away from holding a trophy on the red clay of Court Philippe Chatrier in southwest Paris. He would be the youngest man to own a major championship on all three surfaces; as it is, he’s the youngest to make it to finals on every surface.

Zverev, who is from Germany, is trying to claim his first Grand Slam title. He was the runner-up to Dominic Thiem at the 2020 U.S. Open after blowing a two-set lead and losing in five.

“I’ve said it before and I’m going to say it now again: I was not ready. I was not ready to win my first Grand Slam final. I was not mature enough. I was maybe too much of a kid still. I didn’t know what the occasion means. And that’s why I lost,” Zverev said, thinking back to what happened in a nearly empty Arthur Ashe Stadium during the COVID-19 pandemic. “I’m 27 years old now. So definitely not a kid anymore. Already getting older. If not now, then when?”

No. 3 seed Alcaraz vs. No. 4 seed Zverev marks the first French Open final since 2004 without at least one of (and occasionally two of) Nadal, Novak Djokovic or Roger Federer participating.

Alcaraz looks up to those guys — collectively known as the Big Three of men’s tennis, each completed a career Grand Slam and they own a combined total of 66 major titles — and wants to emulate them.

“I always wanted to be one of the best players in the world. If I want to be one of the best players in the world, I have to be a good player in every surface, like Roger did, Novak, Rafa, (Andy) Murray. The best players in the world had success in every surface,” Alcaraz said.

“So I consider myself a player who adapts, very well, his style in every surface,” he continued. “I grew up playing on clay, but I feel more comfortable playing on a hard court, for example.”

Alcaraz, who got past No. 2 Jannik Sinner in five sets in the semifinals Friday, and Zverev, a four-set winner against No. 7 Casper Ruud, are both adept on clay.

Zverev enters Sunday on a 12-match winning streak on the surface, including a title last month at the Italian Open and a first-round victory against Nadal in Paris. He’s also the only man to reach at least the semifinals at Roland Garros each of the past four years.

Alcaraz was the first man to beat Nadal and Djokovic at the same clay-court event, eliminating them in consecutive matches en route to the title at the 2022 Madrid Open. Alcaraz is third, and Zverev fourth, on the list of most match wins on clay since 2020.

“If you’re in a Grand Slam final, you deserve to be there,” Zverev said. “That goes for both of us.”

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AP tennis: https://apnews.com/hub/tennis

By HOWARD FENDRICH
AP Tennis Writer

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