Nadal loses to Zverev in the first round of what could be his final French Open

Rafael Nadal is out after the first round of what could be his last French Open — a tournament he has dominated since he was a teenager.

Nadal, 37, has won a record 14 French Open championships. A 15th win proved far out of reach Monday: He lost in straight sets to Alexander Zverev.

The 3-6, 6-7, 3-6 loss for Nadal, who has been struggling with hip and abdominal injuries, came as the crowd in Paris cheered him on with chants of “Ra-fa!”

In a rare post-defeat interview on the court, Nadal, a 22-time Grand Slam champion, said that while he wasn't 100% sure it would be his final French Open, "if it’s the last time, I enjoyed it."

"The crowd have been amazing," he said. "The feelings that I have today are difficult to describe in words, but for me, so special to feel the love of the people the way that I felt in the place that I love the most.”

He added that while it would be "difficult" to play on the grass courts at Wimbledon this summer, he was hopeful about coming back to Roland Garros' clay courts for the Olympics.

"That motivates me. That’s going to be another chance, and I hope to be well-prepared,” he said before the crowd gave him a standing ovation.

Zverev is only the third player to beat Nadal at Roland Garros, and it’s only Nadal’s fourth defeat in 116 matches at the French Open.

Hip surgery forced him to sit out the French Open last year.

Nadal's hip and abdominal injuries have severely limited his court time in the last year and a half, leaving him unseeded for the French Open for the first time.

No. 4 seed Zverev, 27, of Germany, was the runner-up at the 2020 U.S. Open and a gold medalist at the Tokyo Olympics, which was delayed until 2021 because of the Covid pandemic.

After his victory Monday, Zverev told Nadal that playing against him was "such a great honor."

"Thank you, Rafa, from all of the tennis world," he said.

Zverev handed the microphone to Nadal, adding: “Today is not my moment. It’s Rafa’s moment.”

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